Churches and HomosexualityPosted on May 29th, 2009.
Following the Supreme Court of California’s decision this past week to uphold the validity of approximately 18,000 same-sex “marriages” from prior to the passage of Prop. 8, churches from around the country have been asking us what they can do to protect themselves from being embarrassed in their community or in the media should they choose, as a result of biblical conviction, not to perform ministerial services for or to employ homosexuals.
Does your church have firm legal footing to deny a “legally” married gay couple church membership, to say no to performing a gay marriage, to say no to performing a funeral service celebrating an openly gay lifestyle, or to terminate the employment of a church employee who begins living an openly homosexual or otherwise biblically immoral lifestyle?
Besides facing costly litigation, churches holding a traditional view of marriage can and have been confronted with hostile treatment in local and national media related to actions taken for religious convictions. The potential problems for churches are multiplied where church leadership is caught unprepared in bylaws, employment initiation paperwork, job descriptions, policies, and other fundamental documents.
Churches holding a traditional view of marriage are increasingly under attack, and “gay marriage” advocates are not resting. Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing on “The Tonight Show” on Tuesday commented about the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold California’s constitutional amendment protecting marriage: “[T]his is not over, this decision, because I think . . . in a year or two they will be back again with another initiative trying to get it. . . . Eventually it’s going to be overturned, I’m sure of that.”
Gay marriage advocates now publicize that gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Washington D.C., Maine, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, and soon in New Hampshire and New York. New Jersey, Washington, and Oregon have civil unions or domestic partnership laws on the books. And the District of Columbia, for example, recognizes marriages legally performed in other states. Churches that hold firm to the traditional view of marriage must be prepared in case a couple legally married elsewhere visits with the wrong motives-to change the church rather than to be changed by the Gospel.
If your pastor and your congregation come under fire legally and in the media for taking an action based upon your church’s biblical convictions, it will be crucial to have your legal ducks in a row. Updating your legal protections does not help after a problem has already come to light. But having the right legal language in place in your bylaws, employment policies, policies and procedure related to permissible use of church facilities, contracts, and other important documents will help your church properly steward its resources, present an accurate witness to the public about its beliefs, and help protect against legal assaults.
It is important to remember that at the Church Law Group we serve all of our clients, and we will work to preserve and protect everyone’s rights to religious freedom, irrespective of how you feel about this particular issue.