Joe Fuiten, one of the region's leading evangelical pastors and a former organizer for George W. Bush, weighed in recently on Washington's gay-marriage bill that, with the support of Gov. Chris Gregoire, looks like all but a sure thing. Yeah, he's against it—to put it very, very mildly.
The head of Bothell's Cedar Park Church issued what he called "an urgent message" through his e-mail and Web newsletter. "This is a deceptive and dangerous bill," he wrote of SB 6239. (Actually, he mistakenly referenced last year's bill, SB 5793, but we know what he means.) "It is the setup for a knockdown."
Why a "knockdown"? Because of language in the bill that, he says, labels excluding gays from marriage as "discrimination." In Fuiten's mind—and, you might extrapolate, the minds of many of the state's evangelicals, along with those of the National Institute of Marriage, which has pledged $250,000 to fight any Republican who votes for the bill—that is the first step toward opening up churches and pastors to discrimination lawsuits. And that, he says, is designed to coerce them to sanctify gay marriages against their will, thus undermining religious freedom.
"The Gay Marriage Equality bill will not be satisfied until virtually every church in Washington is forced to allow gays to hold their weddings in church sanctuaries," Fuiten wrote.
Not so, says bill sponsor Ed Murray: "[Fuiten] is trying to confuse the issue. The bill clearly states that churches and religious organizations cannot be forced to marry anyone."
Well, to be precise, it clearly says that religious officials cannot be forced to do so. But same difference.
So the lawsuit theory, as far as church leaders go, is a red herring. For the churches themselves, though, there is one exception. Religious organizations will not be required to allow the use of their facilities for gay marriage unless the organization offers those facilities "to the public for a fee" or sells goods and services to the public. In Fuiten's call to arms, he suggests that many churches would be subject to that exception—even if they did no more than maintain a pop machine or sell coffee.
Fuiten can relax. After his missive went out, the sponsors of SB 6239 and HB 2516 (the companion bill in the House) decided to change the wording, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, prime sponsor of the House bill, tells Seattle Weekly. Pedersen says the language in question was aimed not at churches but at religiously affiliated businesses that regularly rent space for weddings: "a wedding-chapel kind of thing," he says. "We didn't want to create an opportunity for [those businesses] to discriminate." But, he says, "we want to make sure that any concerns that are even remotely reasonable have been addressed."
Of course, this leaves Fuiten without his rationale for fighting the bill. Somehow we think he'll manage to find a new one.