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Want to deny same-sex couples, ministers? Then don't sell deluxe wedding packages for profit

by Jeremy Hooper

There's an interesting situation shaping up in Idaho, where an ordained minister from Coeur d’Alene is already saying he will refuse to marry same-sex couples at a business that he operates. Here's the gist:

Thousands of couples have tied the knot at the Hitching Post, an institution in Coeur d’Alene right up there with the famous Hudson’s Hamburgers.

But the popular wedding chapel across the street from the Kootenai County Courthouse will not perform marriages for same-sex couples, even if that means closing its doors after 95 years in business.
KEEP READING: Ministers diverge in opinion on lifting of Idaho’s gay marriage ban [Spokesman-Review]

The minister of course has every right to not perform same-sex marriages. I, like all credible marriage equality activists, fully support the right of faith leaders to choose couples they will and will not marry—same-sex or opposite-sex. We are fighting for civil marriage equality, with the religious ceremony ancillary to that conversation.

The reason why I say this one is interesting and distinct is because this minister is not operating a church—he is running a business. And, as of now, his business totally marries opposite-sex couples who want non-religious ceremonies:

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And that's where this guy is going to run into trouble. He's currently operating as a for-profit business that is willing to marry all heterosexual couples, independent of faith views that might differ from his own or even in the total absence of faith. In fact, he doesn't seem to make any moral distinctions. The Hitching Post operates as a business, much more like a Vegas wedding chapel than like a house of God. If he chooses to discriminate, he very well might have to stop operating like he does. He seems prepared for this.

In a fair and reasonable debate, this would be a really straightforward matter that would actually help us drive home key points about civil marriage, public accommodation, and the fair reach of religious freedom. If he wants to be exempt like a church, then he needs to operate like a church; if he wants to operate as a business that purports to serve all of the intended couples who are qualified to marry in the state, then he's going to have to accept the laws of the state/city (Coeur d’Alene prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodation). For people like me, who are so clear about our willingness to render all due exemptions onto even our most vicious of religious opponents, this is actually a perfect scenario that sets up the clear contrast. For all of us, this clear-cut scenario could be a chance to discuss, reinforce, and even celebrate the compromises that are (and have always been) built into our laws—ones that allow for churches to be churches, businesses to be businesses, and civil marriages to be civil marriages (whether or not they choose the religious component as well).

But of course ours is not a fair and reasonable debate, so I expect the mud-throwers who are determined to make murky what could be so clear will step into this conversation and cry "VICTIM!" once marriage equality gets underway in the Gem State (tomorrow morning!). For them, I suspect this story will be interesting and distinct not because of its clear lines but rather because it will give them a chance to claim that a minister—A MINISTER!—is being persecuted because of his faith. I fully expect them to start going, "See, see—we told you they'd force pastors to marry same-sex couples!" Even though they all know better, I'm just waiting for the first opportunistic fan of discrimination to make a religious martyr out of this guy. They're itching to make this point, and this could be the very matter that they, a movement that has demonstrated no scruples when it comes to duping people with information, just might dumb down into a supposed case of gays forcing churches to marry us.

That's why I'm jumping on it now. One step ahead.

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