Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Truth and Fears for churches and ministers about Prop 8

The Fear: Churches will be sued if they refuse to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their religious buildings that are open to the public. Ask whether your pastor, priest, minister, bishop, or rabbi is ready to perform such marriages in your chapels and sanctuaries.

The Truth: There are two issues here:
1) allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in church-owned facilities, and
2) religious officiants performing same-sex marriages.“Yes on 8” supports want you to think your “pastor, priest, minister, bishop, or rabbi” is going to be forced to perform marriages that are in direct conflict with your church’s beliefs.

Issue 1: Same-sex marriages in church-owned facilities.
It’s highly unlikely that a same-sex couple would want to get married in a facility owned by an organization hostile to equal rights — just as, say, a Muslim couple would want to be married in a place where the pastor preaches that Islam is evil. Which is probably why we’ve never heard of a Muslim couple suing a Christian church for denying access to a church hall (or a Christian couple suing a synagogue, or a Jewish couple suing a mosque, etc., etc., etc.).
If the facilities are “open to the public,” then yes, the owner could be sued for refusing to allow access to same-sex couples — or anyone else for that matter.
The solution: Don’t rent your church hall to the public.
The real bottom line: Whether your church gets sued for its discriminatory practices or not has absolutely nothing to do with Proposition 8.

Issue 2: Religious officiants performing same-sex marriages.
To require any church to perform any civil marriage is unconstitutional — that is, it violates the United States Constitution.
No church can be forced to perform any marriage. The Catholic Church will not, and cannot be forced to, perform a marriage for a non-Catholic couple, nor for a divorced Catholic (a Catholic whose previous marriage was annulled by the church, yes, but not a civilly divorced Catholic). The same goes for every other church — and applies to secular officiants as well (i.e., an atheist officiant cannot be forced to perform a religious ceremony).
The only way to “force” any clergy member to do anything against the tenets of his or her church is by way of a constitutional amendment to strike the Free Exercise Clause from the First Amendment, or to repeal the First Amendment altogether. That isn’t going to happen.
Now, if you want a real slippery slope that will threaten religious freedom in the United States, then a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (state or federal) is the way to go.

First, forcing the government to declare which marriages are legal and which are not based on the religious ideology of any one group restricts the religious freedom of every other religious group. That means if, say, Catholics could force the government to abide by Catholic doctrine, all non-Catholic marriages would be null and void. (Sure it’s a stretch, but according to the radical righties, nothing’s “impossible”… right?)

Second, if the righties want to argue that marriage is a “sacred” religious institution, they run the risk of invalidating their own authority to perform legally-recognized marriages.

The Fear: Ministers who preach against same-sex marriages will be sued for hate speech and could be fined by the government.

The Truth: This is a lie, combined with irrelevant fearmongering. I could sue Pat Robertson for hate speech right this minute (anybody can sue anybody for anything, especially in California), but I wouldn’t win. His hate speech (and everyone else’s) is completely protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. There are yelling-fire-in-a-theatre exceptions (e.g., inciting violence), but Fred Phelps will still be free to scream “God hates fags” all he likes.
In fact, ministers will still be free to tell their congregations how to vote on ballot initiatives like Proposition 8, without worrying about losing their federal tax-exempt status. (The only kind of politicking preachers can’t do in an official capacity is promote specific candidates. That’s why bully-pulpiteer James Dobson spun off “Focus on the Family Action” from Focus on the Family; Dobson is quite open about its purpose: “Focus on the Family Action is a new cultural action organization that is completely separate from Focus on the Family, legally. It has been created by separating out of Focus on the Family those activities which constitute lobbying under the IRS code…”)
Again, Proposition 8 has no impact on existing hate-crimes laws (there are no specific “hate speech laws”).

The above summary is from the Lavender Newswire story, “Six Big Lies the Freedom-Haters Are Spreading About Proposition 8.” I have edited it down to the two most common issues that I find that Google searches bring to my blog.

There are many individual Christian Churches that support “No On Prop 8”. They include churches from the following denominations:
Episcopal Church
Lutheran Church
Metropolitan Community Church
Presbyterian Church
Unitarian Universalists
United Church of Christ
United Congregational Church
United Methodist Church


Jess said...

The people supporting Prop 8 don't worry about the truth. They're driven by bigotry, and the saddest of them are the people who don't even realize what's motivating them. Their arguments make no sense--there's no way a religious institution can be forced to do anything against its beliefs, etc.--but they go on spouting them to intellectually lazy people who believe them and support their bigotry. I will be very sad if that proposition passes and have offered what help I can to the opposition forces from 3,000 miles away.

Anonymous said...

naturgesetz said...

What this does not address is the ability of clergy to have the marriages they perform "count" civilly. I cannot prove a future event, but given the tenor of the debates I've been aware of, especially here in Massachusetts, I have no doubt that eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, people will start raising the issue "If the Catholic, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, Orthodox Jewish clergy discriminate by refusing to perform marriages for members of their own religious bodies merely on the basis of the fact that they are of the same sex, although that is their Constitutional right, the state should not give them the benefit of being able to perform civil marriages." And I see no reason for confidence that courts will reject suits brought on that basis.

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