No, this is not merely hypothetical. This is happening to one of my students.


A real-life context is vital to this question so the OPTIONAL DETAILS FOLLOW:

One of my grad students came to me yesterday for advice. As a minister ordained by his denomination, he can legally perform wedding ceremonies as part of his own independent business. (That is, he is not officiating at weddings as a part of pastoral duties and the ceremonies are at various locations, some held in local church buildings rented for such events and some in other venues.) And one of his “specialties”, and business advantages over the average busy, over-scheduled minister is his being on call 24/7 for “weddings on short-notice”. So a couple which suddenly decides to elope or which is without a minister at the last minute because of illness or other emergency can call on my student to perform their wedding upon seeing him in the Yellow Pages (which is a telephone book advertising section in much of the USA).

His problem: he recently got a call from a gay couple who needed a minister on short notice for their wedding. He told the two ladies that the county (i.e. the government jurisdiction) does not issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples because their state doesn’t legally recognize such marriages. The couple told him that that didn’t matter to them because unlike most of his wedding ceremonies, they wouldn’t be expecting him to sign and mail the paperwork afterwards in order to register a valid marriage. They said, “We simply want to hire you to perform a traditional Protestant Christian wedding ceremony so that we can have that experience and a cherished memory, complete with wedding photos etc. We aren’t doing this as a protest or anything and we aren’t expecting you to be making some sort of political statement by going through the motions of submitting a signed wedding license. For that matter, we don’t even care if you personally believe that God recognizes such gay wedding ceremonies, as long as you don’t use the wedding homily to protest gay marriage or make anti-gay statements. As far as we are concerned, you can even think of your participation as similar to being an actor playing a role, a role that your Yellow Pages ad says you perform as a service to anyone who will hire you.” Even so, my student turned them down and refused the booking. He told them and told me, “As an ordained minister, any wedding I perform is going to be assumed to have the blessing of God and the Church of Jesus Christ. And because the Bible does not recognize homosexuals marriage — and prohibits homosexual acts using the very strong word “abomination” — to in any way appear to condone or bless such a “marriage” is a lie at best and blasphemous at worst.”

Yesterday, he got a registered letter from an attorney (who I’ve since learned is the brother of one of the ladies). The lesbian couple is demanding an out of court settlement of $3000 for gender-preference discrimination and the resulting inconvenience, emotional distress, and “spiritual duress for planting a seed of doubt in her eternal salvation” for the one lady’s “formerly unimpeachable security of salvation that once comforted her but now has vanished under the negative influence of a minister of the Lord who cast doubt on the sanctity of her sacred union with her spouse.” The letter concludes by stating that if the $3,000 and a written apology is not received within 10 days, they will file a lawsuit against the minister.

I may post this question in a legal forum but that would be solely for litigation-related advice. In this forum I am asking about the broader implications and the related spiritual questions: WHAT DO YOU THINK? (1) Since the minister is not being asked to violate any law, is it ETHICAL/MORAL for a minister to discriminate in this way on the basis of gender-preference? (2) Should civil rights laws force the minister to perform the wedding ceremony regardless of his own personal beliefs just as some jurisdictions might force a pharmacist to fill a contraceptive prescription [just to pick one semi-analogous scenario]? (3) Should civil rights laws PROTECT the minister from being sued for exercising his conscience according to his personal religious beliefs. After all, litigation threats are one of the most effective and costly types of harassment. (4) Do you think that answers to these questions might or should be different if the lesbian couple had simply asked for a “secular ceremony” led by the minister instead of a “traditional Christian wedding”???

[One’s culture/county and religious/non-religious affiliations are likely to have an enormous impact upon your answers to these questions so I would appreciate any self-descriptions and your mentioning your country or relevant jurisdiction.]

Not sure if I fully understand the first reply. Suppose the minister was asked to perform a “pretend wedding” between a 70 year old man and a 9 year old girl. Obviously, as a non-binding ceremony, no law would be broken. So by your logic, would it be discrimination for the minister to refuse?

PANGLOSS: You do understand the phrase “pretend wedding”, right? (Or are you claiming that a law WOULD be broken under that scenario. Which one? Without submission of a marriage license, you DO understand it is not an actual marriage, right? Yes, these scenarios have actually arisen in case law, so it is wise to check your facts before trying to correct the professor. Avoids embarrassment. Usually.)

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