Wedding Bells, Part II

With the sudden marriage rights granted in three states last week came a lot of to-do about how religious organizations will be impacted. One of the biggest (not-yet-a-) problems being raised right now is the possibility of gay couples attempting to sue churches to force them to perform their wedding ceremonies. That has not happened yet, although I believe that eventually it will.

You wouldn’t know that it hasn’t happened yet, though – not if you’re listening to the Christians on social media.

The Hitching Post, a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was recently sued by a gay couple. The owners and ministers, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, refused to perform gay nuptials for a couple. That couple filed a complaint with the city, claiming discrimination. The ministers quickly found themselves facing possible fines and jail time under city non-discrimination ordinances, and Christians all over the net started falling all over themselves. “We told you the gays would do this!” they’ve screamed. “You tried to tell us they’d never be able to sue churches to force this on us, but look – THEY’RE DONG IT!!!”

One problem: The Hitching Post isn’t a church. It’s a licensed, for-profit business. Since it’s not listed as a religious organization, it falls under the same non-discrimination laws that all city businesses are required to abide by.

I’m not saying this is a battle that shouldn’t be fought. I am saying that the reaction to this has been way over-the-top given the facts of the case. A lot of very un-Christ-like remarks have been made in some conversations, and one person took the time to private message me on Facebook simply for pointing out the fact that this didn’t involve a church and say some things that were…well, let’s just say Jesus wept.

All of this falls under “the law of unintended consequences.” Part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred businesses from discriminating. The cause of that portion of the law was the requirement that blacks – or “coloreds” as they were referred to at the time – have separate (and often less comfortable) accommodations at restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels. Since segregation had to end, it all had to end. The law, however, cannot be applied to only one group. It has to be applied to all. The result has been that businesses licensed by the government (and all businesses are required to have a license these days) are now barred from discriminating against anyone. The result is often harsh – from hefty fines to jail and/or losing one’s business. We’ve seen several businesses attacked over the past couple of years for refusing to take part in gay wedding ceremonies, including photographers, bakers, and tailors.

What’s happened this week to The Hitching Post takes it to a new level. We now must ask ourselves where the government nanny state stops and people are allowed to make their own decisions. If we strike down all anti-discrimination laws, then businesses can start discriminating against anyone. They can put out signs telling gays, blacks, Jews, or even Christians to stay away. The idea here is that a business that does discriminate could then be tried in the court of public opinion; a business owner could find themselves bankrupt after turning someone away.

I admit I don’t know exactly how it should be handled. I do know that the original complaint against The Hitching Post was valid according to the law. The best way for them to beat it is to file as a religious corporation, and they apparently have, which means they may now be protected. Maybe, because marriage is often seen as a religious institution, businesses that cater specifically to weddings should consider filing as religious corporations. I hope the Knapps win this, because I don’t believe anyone should be forced to do anything that runs contrary to their religious beliefs.

Either way, the religious portion of the right wing has nearly gone off the deep end on this story. Everyone needs to take a breath. Educate yourself before you lose your mind about something. Not only will you look less sophomoric, you’ll likely save your blood pressure in the process.

POST SCRIPT: If the day ever comes when gay leftist groups begin attacking religious rights over gay marriage, I will be out front, breaking my personal rules about never protesting in public, leading the charge to protect religious liberties. Just to make that clear.