My wife works at a cupcake bakery and so there are a couple of cases that I’ve been following for her work that I believe are setting a precedent for a successful lawsuit against a church at some point in the future. I believe that regardless of a church enforcing the covenant membership requirements established by the denomination, it is only a matter of time before the church is engaged in this debate.
Cases That Set A Precedent
Sweet Cakes Bakery
- Refusal to make a same sex wedding cake
Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock 309 P. 3d 53 – NM: Supreme Court 2013
- Refusal to take pictures at a same sex commitment ceremony
CHARLIE CRAIG and DAVID MULLINS v. MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, INC., and any successor entity, and JACK C. PHILLIPS
- Refusal to make a same sex wedding cake
ROBERT INGERSOLL and CURT FREED, v. ARLENE’S FLOWERS, INC., d/b/a ARLENE’S FLOWERS AND GIFTS; and BARRONELLE STUTZMAN
- Refusal to provide flowers for a same sex wedding
These cases are being found in favor of the plaintiff’s on the grounds of equality and discrimination. Also, these cases are establishing a precedence that will allow not only the church but also the pastor to be held liable on the grounds of discrimination and equality. This is possible because there are other cases that have established the groundwork for determining discrimination against homosexuality.
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 575, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 156 L.Ed.2d 508 (2003)
“When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination.”
Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 270, 113 S.Ct. 753, 122 L.Ed.2d 34 (1993)
“While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, [the] law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class.”
Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, upheld the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, a milestone enactment which, among other achievements, declared invidious discrimination unlawful, not just by the state but by private citizens, when providing goods and services in the sphere of public accommodations. The Act declared: “`All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion or national origin.’” Id. at 247, 85 S.Ct. 348.
What does all this mean?
I believe that there is a significant possibility that a court could rule in favor of the plaintiff against a church and it’s pastor/pastors on the grounds of discrimination rooted in the fact that churches are taking advantage of the 501(c)(3) tax-exemption status from the IRS and are thus considered public entities who provide a service that is open to the public. I believe that unless the Johnson Amendment is repealed and/or churches abscond their 501(c)(3) tax status, then churches who fail to perform same-sex marriages will experience the same defeat the the bakers, photographers and florists have. Repealing the Johnson Amendment needs to happen to protect free speech in this great nation.
How can churches protect themselves?
It seems to me that the best position the local church can take to avoid this type of legal action is to clearly establish a protocol and process for being wed within the church. This established protocol and process would permit pastors to clearly explain what is expected and what is not expected for people who wish to be wed within the church. This established process can be as simple as a written document that outlines requirements for being wed within the church. These requirements can be things like attending premarital counseling, being a member of the church, having been together for more than a year, a willingness to submit to the biblical understanding of what marriage is versus the legal understanding of what marriage is, and other such things.
As I followed the cases I shared earlier it seems to me that those individuals and organizations were found at fault because they chose to make decisions based on their biblical understanding and what they believed rather than intentionally purposefully protecting themselves in a very legal and structured manner. Because those individuals and organizations failed to have a written document that clearly outlines the requirements that they had for wedding cakes, photography and wedding flowers that seems to be something that was missing in their cases.
That’s my thoughts on the matter. What are your thoughts and what have I missed?