Churches Preparing for Suits Over Gay Marriage

Religion Today

Churches Preparing for Suits Over Gay Marriage

Worried they could be sued by gay couples, some churches are changing their bylaws to reflect their view that the Bible only allows marriage between one man and one woman, the Associated Press reports. Although there have been lawsuits against wedding industry businesses that refuse to serve gay couples, attorneys promoting the bylaw changes say they don't know of any lawsuits against churches. Critics say the changes are unnecessary, but some churches fear that it's only a matter of time before one of them is sued. "I thought marriage was always between one man and one woman, but the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said no," said Gregory S. Erwin, an attorney for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. "I think it's better to be prepared because the law is changing. America is changing." In a June decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. A second decision was more technical but essentially ushered in legal gay marriage in California. Kevin Snider, an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense group that specializes in conservative Christian issues, said some religious leaders have been threatened with lawsuits for declining to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. The Pacific Justice Institute released a model marriage policy a few years ago in response to a statewide gay marriage fight in California. Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest legal group that defends the free expression rights of all faiths, said it is unlikely the government would try to force a pastor to perform a same-sex marriage, but churches that rent out their facilities to the general public could face problems if they refuse to rent to gay couples. Although his organization has not advocated it, Rassbach said it could strengthen a church's legal position to adopt a statement explaining its beliefs about marriage before a dispute arises. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage.


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