No, pastors are NOT facing jail time for not marrying gays…
…despite what you may have seen on social media lately.
For some reason a Washington Times article from October 20, 2014 headlined “Idaho city’s ordinance tells pastors to marry gays or go to jail” has been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter and so forth. (People don’t check dates on social media.)
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, city officials have laid down the law to Christian pastors within their community, telling them bluntly via an ordinance that if they refuse to marry homosexuals, they will face jail time and fines.
The dictate comes on the heels of a legal battle with Donald and Evelyn Knapp, ordained ministers who own the Hitching Post wedding chapel in the city, but who oppose gay marriage, The Daily Caller reported.
There’s no link to the Daily Caller article in question, but I’m guessing it’s an article from the day before (itself citing a Daily Signal commentary by Ryan T. Anderson) concerning a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation.
“Places of public accommodation” does not include churches, though it may include for-profit wedding chapels such as the Hitching Post. City attorney Michael C. Gridley has been quoted as saying:
For-profit wedding chapels in the city now are in a position where last week the ban would have prevented them from performing gay marriages, this week gay marriages are legal, pending an appeal to the 9th Circuit. If you turn away a gay couple, refuse to provide services to them, that you would provide for anyone else, then in theory you violated our code and you’re looking at a potential misdemeanor citation.
I can’t find any evidence in that article or elsewhere that any ordinance or any city official said anything that could be construed as threatening fines or jail time for “Christian pastors within their community” beyond the specific case of for-profit wedding chapels.
I am not aware that the proprietors of the Hitching Post, despite having turned down a same-sex couple, were ever subjects of a lawsuit or any legal action. Instead, it was they, not the city or a disgruntled gay couple, who brought the only lawsuit I’ve read about. They sued the city and filed for a restraining order to ensure that no action would be taken against them for refusing to “marry” same-sex couples.
By the end of October, though, the city attorney was calling the whole thing “a misperception.” In a letter to the Knapps’ lawyer dated October 23, Gridley wrote:
…it is my opinion and the city’s position that as currently represented, the conduct by Hitching Post Weddings LLC is exempt from the requirements of the ordinance and would not be subject to prosecution under the ordinance if a complaint was received by the city.
That may not settle the matter forever as regards for-profit businesses like the Hitching Post. But, again, as far as I can tell, no official at any time has indicated that pastors of churches, which are not for-profit businesses and not places of public accommodation, could possibly be subject to any sanctions at all for refusing to “marry” same-sex couples.
In fact, just yesterday in the ongoing Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage, the attorney arguing for imposing same-sex “marriage” specifically said that it was “obviously” not the case that pastors of churches could be forced to go against their church’s religious precepts — and two of the court’s liberal justices, Kagan and Breyer, agreed. (Kagan, in particular, pointed out that under the First Amendment rabbis can refuse to marry Jews to Gentiles, although this would obviously be illegal discrimination in any non-religious context.)
So the Supreme Court is not about to steamroll over the First Amendment and require pastors of churches to marry same-sex couples.
And it’s not happening in Idaho either.
All of that said, it remains true that same-sex marriage is deeply troubling, and many people, particularly people serving the wedding industry, stand to be completely destroyed by a vindictive gay-marriage lobby and an accommodating culture. I’m not saying there’s nothing to worry about.
But despite the impression some have gotten on social media, they aren’t coming for our pastors. To do that, they would have to blow away the First Amendment entirely, and that isn’t happening under this Supreme Court. Call me naive, but I doubt whether any Supreme Court, certainly any Supreme Court in any particular foreseeable future, would undertake to dismantle the Constitution to that degree.
There are many other kinds of leverage the state can and probably will use against churches that fail to get with the gay-marriage program (rescinding tax-exempt status, etc.), but I believe the First Amendment will continue to protect our pastors from direct action indefinitely.