It was bound to happen. It was a just a question of when and where.
A marriage chapel in Idaho finds itself in the national spotlight after federal courts across the country have more or less made gay marriage the law of the land.
The two ordained ministers who operate the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, located in Coeur d’Alene, a town about the size of nearby Midland, could face misdemeanor criminal charges and even up to 180 days in jail if they refuse to preside over now-legal gay marriages.
At issue is Coeur d’Alene’s non-discrimination ordinance, which as with similar ordinances adopted across the country, including here in Mt. Pleasant and other Michigan cities, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and other grounds.
The two ministers, husband and wife Donald and Evelyn Knapp, only preside over marriages in line with their Christian religious beliefs, which for them means one-man, one-woman marriage — the definition of marriage since time immemorial.
This issue will hardly go away, especially with a federal court expected to strike down Michigan’s voter-approved constitutional definition of marriage any day now. Similar threats of criminal and civil legal action will undoubtedly occur elsewhere.
While many argue clergy and houses of worship are exempt from performing, solemnizing or otherwise recognizing marriages that go against the tenets of their faith under the First Amendment, the reality is far different as evident by the Idaho situation.
Many clergy supplement their ministerial pay by presiding over marriages outside of their church. Some come from well-established Christian denominations. Others have less respectable credentials that amount to self-ordination over the internet. Regardless, all are ordained ministers.
The catch is all of these clergy are also agents of the state, as the acts of marriage they preside over would have no legal significance whatsoever if they were not vested with authority by the government to conduct what also amounts to a state ceremony.
And that’s where the legal quagmire begins.
While the religious liberty of clergy and other men and women of faith is constitutionally protected, under both the state and federal constitutions, the situation becomes much more difficult because the clergy are in essence no different from notaries public, who also make certifications in accordance with state law.
Thankfully, the solution is quite simple: Get the government out of marriage.
Marriage has always been, at its core, a basic religious ritual in much the same way as baptism is for Christians.
If government cannot define who can be baptized then it certainly cannot define who can be married at the high altar. Yet that is exactly what will happen if marriage remains defined in the statute books, as evident by what the Knapps face in Idaho.
Some houses of worship may decide to — actually, some are already doing so — allow gay marriage. Others may affirm their traditional definition.
Either way, this is a decision for priests, ministers, bishops, rabbis, imams and their respective churches, temples, mosques, synods and sacerdotal or ecclesiastical institutions.
— Dennis Lennox