Requiring Ministers to Perform Same-Sex Marriage

It was bound to happen.

When the Obama Administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and when the Supreme Court struck down some of the provisions of DOMA, the doors became wide open for the judiciary to make same-sex marriage the de facto law of the land.

With the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA, federal judges throughout the nation declared that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriages were unconstitutional, even though some of these laws were approved by a majority of voters. The fact is that by fiat, unelected judges rejected the will of the people and overruled state legislatures.

Today, same-sex marriage is the law in more than thirty states. As a result, municipalities are enacting laws and regulations that put people who seek to live by biblical principles in conflict with these laws.

In the last few months judges have been very hard on Christian people who refuse to cater to same-sex marriages. A judge in Colorado ordered a baker to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage. If the baker refused the judge’s order, he would face jail time.

The Washington state attorney general sued a Christian florist for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding because it violated her religious beliefs.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against a photographer for refusing to photograph a same-sex marriage on religious and moral grounds.

The City of Houston issues subpoenas requiring local pastors to submit their sermons and other correspondence with church members over the issue of allowing transgenders to use women’s bathrooms rather than bathrooms assigned to their natural sex.

Now, a new case is drawing national attention. A Christian couple who own a wedding chapel in Idaho has been threatened by city officials in Coeur d’Alene with fines and jail time if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage, even when the ceremony may violate their religious beliefs and the teachings of their denomination.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp are the owners of the Hitching Post Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The two of them are ordained ministers in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a Pentecostal denomination.

Coeur d’Alene City Attorney said that if the Knapps refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, they will be violating a city ordinance and will be subject to a fine and time in jail.

According to a report published in the Inquisitr, the fines can be applied every day:

By declining to perform same-sex ceremonies [they] face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Worse, each day the Knapps decline to perform a requested same-sex wedding ceremony, they commit a separate and distinct misdemeanor, subject to the same penalties. Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over 3 years and being fined $7,000. For the past several months, the City has privately and publicly threatened to apply Ordinance §9.56 to the Knapps if same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho and the Knapps declined to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony at The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel.

Pastors across the nation are raising concerns over state and local ordinances concerning same-sex marriages.

The issue is whether pastors can be forced to perform same-sex weddings even when they object to these kinds of union on religious and moral grounds. Since most of these laws are nondiscriminatory laws, the issue is whether pastors can be required to perform same-sex weddings under state and local nondiscrimination laws.

This issue will not go away. Since the Supreme Court of the United State refused recently to decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, federal courts are taking the Supreme Court’s silence as an indication that the Supreme Court will eventually declare same-sex marriage constitutional.

When that happens, the Supreme Court then will be forced to review whether churches, ministers, and other religious institutions will be able to refuse to accommodate same-sex groups.

Until the Supreme Court decides, cities and municipalities will continue to threaten pastors and religious organizations with fines and jail time, notwithstanding their religious objections.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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