Conversation explores the intersection between religious liberty and LGBT rights

The Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative and the LGBT Law Forum hosted “Religious Liberty: The Key to Healing LGBT Divides,” a conversation between Law School Dean Marcus Cole and Rev. Dr. Marian Edmonds-Allen. Edmonds-Allen is the executive director of Parity, “a NYC-based national nonprofit that works at the intersection of faith and LGBT concerns.”

The conversation mainly addressed the intersection of religious freedom and LGBT rights, a particular interest of Edmonds-Allen. She has written extensively on the topic, including a dissertation titled Covenantal Pluralism, Religious Freedom and Mission: Evidence for Healing the LGBT and Faith Divide. According to her introduction in the event announcement, Edmonds-Allen “has worked with youth and families in various denominations and settings throughout the country for more than 20 years, focusing on strengths-based interventions and supports to affirm beliefs and faith practices for LGBT persons.”

According to Parity’s website, the organization works to “empower new queer faith and social justice leaders” and to “help faith communities affirm and connect with queer people.” Parity also seeks to “help LGBTQ+ organizations and communities to affirm spirituality” and “promote LGBTQ+ religious liberty and freedom.”

Edmonds-Allen previously spoke at Notre Dame’s 2021 Religious Liberty Summit in a panel on “Overcoming Polarization of Religious Liberty.” In her 2021 remarks, Edmonds-Allen, who described herself as a “non-binary, bisexual person married to a woman,” argued that “religious freedom is an issue that can bring all people together.”

Dean Cole and Edmonds-Allen also discussed her role in working with LGBT youth homelessness, and she spoke about her personal experience and how she “understands the concern around [transgender care].” She stated, “I have two transgender children, one of my transgender children is preparing for surgery right now.”

She also described her personal struggle of “coming out” at the age of 40, stating, “All that I thought my faith was based on was suddenly rocked by this news to myself that I was LGBT.”

One of the main topics of discussion was the intersection between religious beliefs and LGBT rights, which “go together,” as Edmonds-Allen emphasized throughout.

She stated, “At its core, religious freedom is about everyone having the integrity of their own religious belief or non-belief and conviction. That means everyone gets treated equally and with respect.” She continued, explaining that “religious freedom promotes the integrity of the individual, every single individual, and that’s why it’s what we need around the world to bring us all together and for all people.”

However, Edmonds-Allen maintained that LGBT rights should not be used to force people to violate their consciences. In reference to current debates about Catholic hospitals providing transgender surgeries, she stated, “I don’t believe that a person should be forced to do something that’s against their beliefs and their convictions, and I also believe that people need access to the care and services that they need.”

Dean Cole questioned her further on this topic, referencing how “Catholic adoption agencies didn’t want to place children with gay couples because that violated their religious beliefs.” Dean Cole also brought up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which involved a religious baker refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. Regarding this topic, Dean Cole asked, “How does religious freedom navigate the divide between people who don’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding and those who want to preserve and protect LGBTQ rights?”

Edmonds-Allen responded that other people were willing to perform weddings, “So if someone else didn’t want to do that, that’s not a big deal. That just meant that Jane did that, instead of John.” She said later in the talk that if someone “opts out” of providing service for LGBT people on religious grounds, “there are other places you can go.”

Edmonds-Allen and Dean Cole also discussed these issues in reference to Notre Dame in particular. When asked by a member of the audience about how her beliefs specifically apply to Notre Dame, she responded, “My experience is that, even though my religious beliefs and who I am as a person doesn’t line up with Catholic teaching, I have had more opportunities as an LGBT person with Notre Dame than with any other university around the country, with the exception of BYU … because of … the loving stance that Catholic teaching has.”

On this point, Dean Cole voiced his opinion on Catholicism’s stance toward members of the LGBT community. He responded to an audience question about the relationship between LGBT rights and Catholic teaching specifically at Notre Dame. He stated, “There is nothing hateful about our faith, there is nothing discriminatory or bigoted about our faith.” He continued, “Even if you don’t agree with somebody’s lifestyle, or their practices, or who they are, Jesus commands us to embrace them as they are, where they are. And then, he’ll work on us both because we’re all sinners.”

Dean Cole also said in the conversation, “We’re experiencing what people refer to as the culture wars, and a lot of people associate LGBT rights as in opposition to religious freedom. And the truth is that there are people in the religious freedom movement who aren’t so interested in religious freedom but more interested in finding a cover for their bigotry … Religious freedom is about something more important.”

Dean Cole repeated this criticism later in the conversation: “I’m a Roman Catholic. I’m not a cafeteria Catholic, I’m a practicing, believing Roman Catholic. … But I’ve encountered Roman Catholics who, because of our doctrine in our church, are very hostile to people who are LGBTQ and use religious freedom or the doctrine of the Church as a vehicle to live out their anger, hatred, or distrust of people who are LGBTQ.” 

One audience member partially pushed back against this attitude, referring to the Catechism’s teaching. He stated, “For Notre Dame as a Catholic institution, religious freedom is promoting true Catholic teaching, which is always loving and respectful, but which sometimes some LGBT people might not agree with.”

Michael Canady is a sophomore studying classics and constitutional studies. He is a steadfast believer that Notre Dame can still make the College Football Playoff, that dining hall food is fantastic, and that Hesburgh Library is the most beautiful building on campus. For more outrageous takes, he can be reached at

Photo Credit: University of Notre Dame Law School

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