During a town hall meeting June 1 on the Dixie State University campus in St. George, Senator Orrin Hatch made disparaging remarks about lesbian and gay people of faith, setting off a firestorm of reaction.
In the meeting, attended by about 300 people, Hatch bemoaned what he called the lack of fiscal conservatives in the Senate and begged that Tea Party members “out of anger should not disrupt the few GOP [candidates] who can win.”
He gave advice that conservatives in the area must organize and unite, just as “unions, environmentalists, personal injury lawyers and gay rights activists do for Democrat candidates.”
“Gays and lesbians don’t pay tithing, their religion is politics,” he said.
“This rhetoric is highly insulting and offensive to lesbian and gay people, particularly to devout followers of a wide range of faith traditions,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Media have a responsibility to show the gap between Hatch’s false anti-gay rhetoric and the actual lives of lesbian and gay people of faith.”
“I’d love to know what that means, exactly. Gay people can’t be religious? The LGBT community necessarily cares more (about) politics than the rest of the country?” Washington Monthly columnist Steve Benen asked. “For a politician with a habit of making bizarre remarks, Hatch’s comment was even dumber than usual.”
Mormon religion scholar Joanna Brooks breathed a heavy sigh at Hatch’s remark.
“Never mind all the LGBT Mormons who stay active in the LDS Church and pay their tithes. Never mind all the LGBT people of faith who give offerings to their home churches and synagogues,” she said. “Never mind the fact that paying tithes or church offerings never prevented conservatives from giving abundantly to political causes.”
“I’m guessing it’s a calculated ploy by Orrin to attract the ire of the Utah LGBT community so that he can then put on a show playing the martyr for the Tea Party crowd, but I don’t think it’s gonna work,” said “post-Mormon” Chino Blanco in his LDS-Antagonist blog. “It’s such a clumsy insult that all it’s going to trigger is a bunch of eye-rolling now and more schadenfreude later when Orrin gets the boot from the same folks he’s trying so hard to impress with his playground taunts.”
A study released last year by the Barna Group, a research organization focused on the “intersection of faith and culture,” found that 60 percent of gays and lesbians describe their faith as “very important” in their life.”
“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” said company founder George Barna. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.”
“It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles — but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles,” Barna continued. “Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.”
“I suppose one can’t fault Sen. Hatch for not having Barna’s data at his fingertips, but if he cared to understand the role faith plays in the lives of LGBT Americans instead of just spouting false stereotypes, he’d find gay and lesbian people of faith in diverse congregations across the country,” said Dan Nejfelt, editor of Faith in Public Life. “He wouldn’t have to go very far, either. Sen. Hatch’s office is 3½ miles from my church, which has numerous LGBT members. I don’t snoop around in the collection plate to see who tithes and who doesn’t, but I know that my neighbors in the pews worship God, not politics. Sen. Hatch doesn’t have the standing to dismiss their faith or anyone else’s.”
“Senator Hatch’s statement that gay people’s religion is politics is insulting and demeaning to the millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans who are people of faith. In fact, the great irony is that they are often more committed to their faiths and religious denominations than those faiths are dedicated to protecting them and ensuring their equality,” said Human Rights Campaign Faith Program Director Harry Knox. “Senator Hatch is certainly right that many of his fellow Republicans could learn a lot from LGBT people’s dedication to equality. But there is no denying that there are millions of LGBT Americans who everyday give their time, talent and money to local churches, synagogues and temples all over the country. LGBT religious leaders are often the very ones revitalizing moribund churches and institutions. These committed religious leaders are working to provide a loving alternative to the hopeless hatred people like Sen. Hatch call sound doctrine.”
A call and e-mails to the senator’s offices for further clarification were not returned by press time.