Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Homosexuality, 17 July 2023



Copyright © 2023 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


This article advances scholarship on the relationship between sexuality, religion, and the law within the United States by analyzing case summaries and court opinions of the federal appellate cases decided between 1990 and 2020 that involve a religion-based claim being used to advance or defend gay and lesbian rights. Contrary to dominant public narratives that position religion uniformly in opposition to progressive sexual values, these cases show how Americans’ religious beliefs and practices include diverse sexual identities. We find that the courts’ reactions to such cases, however, illustrate the tension within legal discourse and hesitancy for the courts to equate religious and moral values with affirming LGBT identities, people, and rights. Our findings suggest that the courts and litigants define what religion is—and what it is not—by positioning it in relation to sexuality.