What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Roll on up for my price is down, come on in for the best in town

On the New Hampshire law, and everybody getting wiggy about "religious organization" exemption.

What most people are saying, and what I've also said, is exactly true. Churches are not required to perform marriages, or even recognize marriages that violate their own religious beliefs. Take for example the Catholic Church which has some of the most restrictive rules regarding marriage. However, having worked with many catholics, there are several loopholes and procedures to work around a lot of those rules (such as how to get an annulment even if there are children).

What most people miss is the little known dirty secret of churches. They aren't all that high and mighty. Many churches in the US (not all, but I'm willing to be it's somewhere north of 50% of the church organizations) allow people to rent their property for functions, who may not be members of the church. Also, and here's the dirty part of it, they have been willing to perform marriages, with their clergy/ministerial staff performing the ceremony, if the couple makes a sizable donation to the church regardless of if the couple or family are members. And that's the problem.

See, once you do that, it becomes a "business function" and then you have to follow state laws on anti-discrimination. That is, as a church with church property, you may deny the satanist group who want to rent out the church pavilion in the park like setting of your lawn for a bar-b-que, but if you've rented to other organizations not affiliated with the church, that group can sue you for discrimination and win. It's happened (not with satanists but with groups that certain churches didn't like).

Now do you see their dilemma? They already have a history of performing marriages for hire by ignoring their own rules for the quick buck. They've set precedent. If the state allows gay marriages, and a gay couple ask to be married in the church, by the church officials, if that church broke their rules before and the gay couple can prove it, the church is in big do-do.

And it's all because they intentionally misled people that marriage is a religious institution and they allowed themselves to go the way of the money lenders with their own temples. All because they wanted the money.


vince said...

Yes, but the churches still get the final say on who they do or do not rent to. I do agree that there are churches who will marry a couple if the money is right even if neither is a member of that church. But again, it's still their call on who they do or do not chose to marry within the church. As far as I'm concerned, this is no different than if I own a building that I rent out. It's my building - I can rent to who I want and not rent to who I want. Yes, I'm a big property rights person.

Yes, hypocrisy is far too common among many Christians, especially the far right. They have become the modern Pharisees, concerned with rules and rituals and condemning people rather than actually being concerned what we Christians are called to do by Jesus.

Having said that, I'm very much opposed to churches not being taxed as long as they don't speak out on things like political races. In my opinion (not shared by others, obviously) it is a violation of the separation church and state. Worse, again in my opinion, it's a violation of free speech. If I ran a church (unlikely as that would be, even though I'm a Christian) I would pay property taxes on the property, because I believe it's what I should do, and because I don't want the government telling me what I can or can not say from the pulpit (within the fire-in-a-crowded-theater rules).

For the government, marriage is a legal contract, like any legal contract, but it's only recently that this has been a normal state of affairs. Neither the Romans or the Greeks had specific civil ceremonies. Neither did early Christianity. It wasn't until the Reformation that the state began to truly get involved in marriages in Europe.

I support gay marriage. I would support it even if I had moral problems with it, because it's a matter, for me, of equal protection under the law. The US is not, nor should it be a theocracy, no matter what the religious right (and this includes some Jewish and Muslim views) believes. But as long as there is easy access to civil marriage, I don't think think that any church should be required to perform a marriage ceremony inconsistent with it's core beliefs.

Steve Buchheit said...

Vince, actually, once churches rent outside their congregation, they are open for business and can not restrict who rents the place. There was a call in NJ (I think) that was specifically about using a church property (not attached to the church, if memory serves), where the church decided that the lesbian couple that wanted to use it couldn't. The church lost because they had rented it outside their membership, they could no longer claim special status.

Also, in Ohio, if you have a rental property, if the applicant meets your fiscal needs (payment of deposits) you can not refuse to rent the property.

As to the taxation of church property, here in Ohio we've had several fights over churches and politics and removing tax-exempt status. We even have two ministerial organizations devoted to outing the other churches that violate the "no political activity" rule. And, this is where the Religious Right movement began, with the potential taxation of Bob Jones University. It was only after they won their case to keep BJU tax free during the Reagan administration that they decided to become "culture warriors" and took on the social conservative issues they're known for today.

And before the Reformation private property inheritance laws were much different than they are now. With the rise of the middle class and increasing private property ownership, the state had a vested interest in the orderly transfer of property. And with the rise of marriage and modern culture, other rights have been conferred to the marriage union, which strengthens the need of the state to both register and solemnize the union.