Start a conversation with someone on the other side of LGBT debate

The following was published in the Salt Lake Tribune on July 11 2015

When the Supreme Court announced its decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the national media’s declarations that life in the United States had changed overnight quickly became, in my opinion, a tired cliché. Such oversimplification ignores both the generations of LGBT activists who have worked long and hard for their civil rights and conservative Americans whose deep disappointment and concern will not vanish in a sea of rainbow flags.

It would be nice to think that the rancor is over, that all is forgiven on both sides, but in a free society it doesn’t work that way. Humanity doesn’t effortlessly glide from paradigm shift to paradigm shift. Whether you celebrated or lamented the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, there is work ahead to do. Under these new circumstances each Utahn has to figure out how to productively and joyfully live, work, and raise their family in a community that won’t always agree on some pretty basic principles.

Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, we have the opportunity to move away from often polarizing debate around a specific issue and toward a deeper understanding of how sexual orientation, gender identity and religion work in our lives and the lives of our neighbors.

What lies beneath such statements as “love is love” or “marriage is ordained by God”? Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores this terrain when he compares the moral foundations of liberals and conservatives. Over years of cross-cultural research, Haidt has identified values that the two groups share and where they diverge.

It should be no surprise to anyone that care for those in need, liberty from oppression and the idea of fairness rank high on the list of moral foundations important to people of all political and religious inclinations. We saw this at work last March when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and LGBT advocates came together in support of Utah’s historic nondiscrimination legislation.

But research also shows that conservatives don’t stop there. Just as important to them as care, fairness and liberty are loyalty to the group, respect for authority and sanctity. Too often, the left characterizes these last three as products of fear or superstition — not moral foundations at all — yet for the right a moral code is incomplete without them. It is this conflict that can keep us in our respective corners.

But there is a way out. We need to learn how to ask questions and listen empathetically to each other with an ear tuned to these moral foundations: “Tell me what justice means to you.” “How does the counsel you receive from your religious leaders work in your life?” “When do you connect with the transcendent?”

But where to begin? These weighty topics are hard to broach across the fence to a neighbor you don’t know very well. Start by cultivating relationships in your community the old-fashioned way: a barbecue, a baby shower, a playdate. If you want your values, your choices to be understood, you have to show a willingness to learn about those of others. Challenge yourself to find the people you think are the most different from you — be it the activist lesbian mom or the straight-laced Mormon dad and get to know them. Sit next to them at the soccer game. Ask them to volunteer at school. Be interested in the life of their family.

In 1855, the poet Walt Whitman wrote:

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Utah is a state that is famous for tea party Republicans and a conservative religion, but its capital was also voted “America’s Gayest City” by the Advocate magazine and has the highest percentage of same sex couples raising children. We certainly defy cliché and we often contradict ourselves, but as a result we have the chance to be a model to the nation for respectful, inclusive, community-building.

We are large Utah, we contain multitudes. Let’s start talking.

Erika Munson is a mother, grandmother and English teacher from Sandy. She is the co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, a community devoted to making LDS homes and congregations places where LGBT/SSA individuals can thrive.