Will Your Pastor Go to Jail for Refusing to Marry Gay Couples?

A question from a MadeByMark.com reader: My pastor tells me he could be jailed at any moment because he will refuse to perform gay marriages in our church. See? Your freedoms do hurt other people!

The only reason your pastor may have to buy pulpit robes with broad black and white stripes is if America starts jailing liars and peoples too lazy to do their own homework — which won’t happen, because then we wouldn’t have any politicians left to run the country.

The facts: religious organizations are routinely exempted from compliance with all kinds of Federal laws — like paying taxes on the swanky gyms, spas, and entertainment complexes they call “Family Life Centers.” The Supreme Court marriage equality ruling does nothing to change this. Pastors have always had the right to refuse to marry people — and still do.

But fear-mongers like to cite a Fox News story (cough cough) from November of 2014, in which reporter Todd Starnes claimed owners of the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel in Idaho were threatened with “jail time and up to a $1,000 fine.” (Later versions of the story promoted by the American Family Association increased the threat to “180 days in jail” and a fine of “$1,000 a day.”)

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee even weighed in on Facebook: “Remember when same-sex marriage activists used to claim that it would never infringe on other people’s religious beliefs? Well, that was a lie.”

Well, someone was lying — but not marriage rights advocates. Apparently, the entire “threat” was fabricated as part of a media stunt to stir up opposition to marriage rights legislation.

As snopes.com notes, the Hitching Post — prior to October 2014 — had been a private, for-profit corporation whose own website claimed, “We … perform wedding ceremonies of other faiths as well as civil weddings.” But a day before Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban was struck down, the owners registered the Hitching Post as a religious corporation and changed their web site to advertise “small, short, intimate, and private weddings for couples who desire a traditional Christian wedding ceremony.” As the Huffington Post notes, the law in Idaho specifically exempted religious corporations — so once the Hitching Post got religion, it was under no obligation to perform same-sex marriages.

Further, confused city officials told the Huffington Post that they had never threatened anyone with fines or jail time. And while owners of the Hitching Post chapel claimed they had already turned gay couples away, the first complaint filed with the city didn’t come until days after media coverage of the story broke. (The city dismissed it, because religious corporations are exempt from the city’s laws.)

The owners of the Hitching Post never paid fines or went to jail. The Hitching Post is still open for business. It appears the lawsuit filed by the conservative Alliance for Defending Freedom was more about snagging headlines than defending freedom. (And it’s pretty ironic how many folks who make a career of defending Truth don’t hesitate to bend the truth when it suits their political purposes.)

I mean this in the most Christian way: if your pastor is telling you he or she faces jail time as a result of the marriage equality ruling, then your pastor is either too lazy to look up the truth … or is deliberately lying to you.

Either way, it’s time you go church shopping.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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