Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Can the Hitching Post deny homosexual marriages?

Advocates of same-sex marriage have long said that they want the right to marry, but aren't interested in forcing religious officials to consecrate those marriages in violation of their own religious beliefs. Apparently some same-sex couple in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, does think this way. 

This month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. This apparently makes gay marriage legal in the state (at least barring the Supreme Court ever weighing in on the issue) and changed some of the outlook of city anti-discrimination ordinances. Friday, October 17th the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel was contacted by a man wanting a same-sex wedding. The chapel turned him down. This put Donald and Evelyn Knapp, who own and operate the wedding chapel, in violation of a 2013 Coeur d'Alene discrimination ordinance. "Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time." (Up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 per day in fines, and the ADF claims "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.") When it was passed, opponents of the ordinance said, for example, that the rule would "discriminate against those with religious beliefs, especially in the business world, by forcing them to go against their conscience for the benefit of a select few."

In 2013 Coeur d'Alene passed an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. This includes housing, employment and "public accommodation". The city's position seems to be that since the Hitching Post is a for-profit business, this is a matter of "public accommodation" and they will be required to perform homosexual weddings. The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Knapps. Attorney Jeremy Tedesco contends that “The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple’s freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended.” He asserted, “The government should not force ordained ministers to act contrary to their faith under threat of jail time and criminal fines.” According to ADF, punishing ministers under this ordinance violates both the US Constitution and Idaho's Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act.

Backers of the Knapps call the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel a "ministry" and point out that they are ministers of the gospel (though not pastors). Online sources state that the Knapps are ordained by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a Pentecostal denomination. Opponents contend that this is not a freedom of religion issue because Churches are not being forced to perform same-sex weddings, and that this is a for-profit business.

The lawsuit is a preemptive attack by ADF to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance re the Knapps (i.e., they have not yet been fined or jailed). To me it seems pretty clear that the Knapps are ordained ministers and that they run a for-profit business -- that is, the purpose of the Hitching Post is to conduct wedding ceremonies for paying customers. I can't confirm that last part for sure. It seems that the excitement caused by this uproar has brought so much traffic to their website that they have exceeded their band width.

I found it interesting that the HuffPo crowd is spinning this that it not a church that is "being forced to perform same-sex weddings." Technically they are correct, and we should note the other side has their spin too (e.g., referring to the wedding chapel as a ministry rather than a business).* But as a Baptist minister I can say that it is ministers and not churches who perform weddings -- and they often are paid for their service. I don't pretend to know how it works in other denominations, but in my case I alone -- with my conscience -- decide whether or not I will marry someone. If the Knapps, as ministers, become unable to choose whom they will marry -- even if they do it for profit -- how long will it be before other ministers are herded into the same corral? 

Don't worry about the "slippery slope," you say, we won't go there. Really? Homosexual marriage has been part of a creeping agenda. With every victory comes a new iteration as the movement takes courage and remakes itself. First it was civil unions. We just want the same legal advantages as marriage, it doesn't matter what you call it. I said then that the passing of civil unions would prove that will not satisfy. Now having legal homosexual marriage does not satisfy (some, at least). We don't just want those who want to perform such marriages to perform them, we want those who don't want to perform them to perform them as well. At least that's what this Coeur d'Alene Hitching Post casesays to me. I'm not sure why it shouldn't?

Links to news and opinion on Coeur d'Alene and the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel

* I think groups like ADF may over-sensationalize issues such as this in order to "boost their ratings" among their supporters, as well as gain new supporters. (Groups on the other side do this too.)


R. L. Vaughn said...

Today I was able to get on the Hitching Post web site. It confirms what I thought -- that the Hitching Post is a for-profit business and they are ministers who perform traditional religious ceremonies. The ceremonies are performed only "by our Licensed or Ordained Hitching Post ministers." I don't know if there are other ministers than the owners. The owners are members of Life Center Church in Spokane, Washington, a part of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Foursquare Church believes that "sexual union was established exclusively within the context of male-female relationship and formalized in the ordinance of marriage" and that homosexuality is a sin "that, if persisted in, brings grave consequences in this life and excludes one from the Kingdom of God." Clearly the ministers, in refusing to perform homosexual marriages, are following their consciences and the belief system of their church. But should they be able to run a "for-profit" wedding business?

The wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post come in two available packages, both of which include:

* Minister
* Decorated Chapel
* Music during the ceremony
* Limited time usage of changing room
* Filing of your marriage license with the County Recorder

The second, slightly more expensive package, also includes photos on a secure digital memory card.

The question in my mind, and that I have for those who believe the Hitching Post should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, is whether only people who hold to a progressive non-traditional view of marriage should be allowed to own and run wedding chapels? Must all others be banished? Why can't we have both? Are same-sex marriage advocates so intolerant to say we can't? I say if someone wants the type of marriage the Hitching Post provides, they can get married there and if they want a non-traditional marriage they can go where those are provided. It's not like the Hitching Post is keeping them from getting married. They just want to follow their own consciences in the marriages they perform.

Hey, I think the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel is a doctrinally heretical religious society, but I wouldn't campaign to stop them from performing marriages.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I noticed some of the "anti" commentators mentioning things that the Hitching Post have recently changed -- as some kind of proof that they don't really believe what they say they believe. But up until homosexual marriage became legal in Idaho, those things really of no consequence.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Following up on this a bit further:

Today I noticed the article "Truth trampled in Hitching Post stampede" by Shawn Vestal. In it Vestal pointed to several things that subvert the claims of the Knapps about their "religious ministry" at the Hitching Post. He writes, "The Hitching Post’s religiosity seems to have intensified just lately." After that he points to recent changes in the chapel’s website, such as from “ordained ministers will marry you using a traditional or civil ceremony” and “as well as civil weddings” to “using a traditional, religious ceremony” and “traditional Christian wedding ceremony.”

Vestal also questions their commitment to "traditional marriage," noting that there is no appointment necessary, with low fees and a quick turnaround. He claims that "in 2001, a man arrived for his wedding in full drag, panty hose and all, to the delight and amusement of all."

To the first item I again point out that there was no need for the Knapps and the Hitching Post to be so careful in their wording, since until October homosexual weddings were not legal in Idaho. After they became so, it would then be important to them to change their statements and wording to fit the new situation.

To the second item I would certainly disagree with marrying a man in "full drag", even if he is marrying a woman. Such things certainly do not fit my view of "traditional marriage." But the Knapps are not required to hold my view of traditional marriage -- and just because they might think it is OK to perform a heterosexual marriage when the groom is in "full drag" doesn't mean they think it is OK to perform a homosexual marriage. All of us live with all sorts of inconsistencies.

In Couer d’Alene City Attorney confirms: conservative Christian ministers’ wedding chapel business must provide same-sex marriage ceremonies, Eugene Volokh* writes, "The government can’t require the employees or owners of a for-profit newspaper or motivational speaker service to say the Pledge of Allegiance as a condition of staying in business, just as it can’t require noncommercially minded schoolchildren to say the Pledge. The government can’t require such for-profit businesses to display “Live Free or Die” on their company cars. It can’t require for-profit newspapers to publish things they don’t want to publish. Likewise, it can’t require for-profit officiants of verbal ceremonies (especially religious ceremonies, but secular ones as well) to say things they choose not to say."

* Letter from Couer d’Alene City Attorney Michael Gridley to ADF -- "...if they are providing services primarily or substantially for profit and they discriminate in providing those services based on sexual orientation then they would likely be in violation of the ordinance"

* Eugene Volokh is the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law.