Churches and Homosexuality Continued…Posted on June 5th, 2009.
This week, the state of New Hampshire become the sixth state in the U.S. to permit homosexual marriage. However, unlike in previous states, New Hampshire’s revised bill added a sentence specifying that all religious organizations shall have exclusive control over their religious doctrines, policies, teachings, and beliefs on marraige. It also clarified that church-related organizations that serve charitable or educational purposes are exempt from having to provide insurance and other benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. Churches will be able to decide whether to conduct religious marriages for same-sex couples.
Whether or not homosexuality is a comfortable topic of discussion for the leaders of your church, your church is now, or soon will be, forced to confront the issue in the context of employment, performing weddings and funerals, the use of church property, and church membership standards.
The significance of homsexuality as a social issue in recent years has caused significant challenges for churches holding to a traditional definition of marriage. Some churches have made headlines for denying the use of their facilities to homosexuals who would use their facilities to promote an openly gay lifestyle, and faced the scorn of national media. Churches in every state will soon be confronted with whether or not to allow a gay couple legally married in another state the opportunity to become church members. If your church adheres to a traditional definition of marriage, you had better think about the challenges to your beliefs that you may face, and how to handle them without public embarrassment and legal trouble. There are some groups in this country that would prey upon the unpreparedness of your church to prove a point, or score a political or legal victory.
Regardless of what they may be, if your church wants to effectively stand by its beliefs and teaching then your church MUST document its religious beliefs and principles in its corporate governance documents. An effectively managed religious organization will have well thought out and documented bylaws, employment policies, contracts, standards of conduct, protocols for use of church property, employee handbooks, and dispute resolution procedures. Having the appropriate language in these various documents can help protect your church and your pastor from public ridicule, save your church litigation costs and help protect it from legal assaults, help your church properly steward resources, and present an accurate witness to the public about its beliefs.
Please contact an attorney at the Church Law Group if you have any questions regarding the adequacy of your governance documents or any other policies or procedures of the your church.