Joe Fuiten, one of the region's leading evangelical pastors and a former organizer for George W. Bush, weighed in this week on the gay marriage bill supported by Governor Chris Gregoire. Yeah, he's against it--to put it very, very mildly.
This is the case, he says, because of language in the bill that talks about excluding gays from marriage as "discrimination." In Fuiten's mind, that is the first step toward opening churches and pastors up 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 writes.
Bill sponsor Ed Murray says 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, as follows from the text:
No regularly licensed or ordained minister or any priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination is required to solemnize any marriage. A refusal to solemnize any marriage under this section by a regularly licensed or ordained minister or priest, iman, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination does not create a civil claim or cause of action.
So the lawsuit theory, as far church leaders go, is a red herring.
For the churches themselves, though, there is one exception. Religious organizations could not be required to use its 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 as well as 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 business that regularly rent out 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. "
So when the bills appear before their committee hearings on Monday, they will be rewritten to have what Pedersen calls "a blanket exemption for any religious facility."
Of course, this leaves Fuiten without his rationale for fighting the bill. Somehow, we think he'll find a new one.