With the U.S. Supreme Court set to take up gay marriage and potentially legalize it this summer, churches that host wedding ceremonies or other events for traditional couples should examine their bylaws and shield themselves from the impact of possible litigation, says an attorney who specializes in religious liberty issues.
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The justices are scheduled in March to hear two cases concerning gay marriage, and by June could either uphold the traditional definition of marriage or legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- a religious liberty legal organization -- is hoping for the former but preparing churches for the latter, just in case.
A number of situations could place churches in legal trouble, such as congregations who would:
-- allow a traditional couple but not a same-sex couple to use their facility for a wedding ceremony.
-- allow a traditional couple but not a same-sex couple to take part in a marriage class or retreat.
-- terminate an employee involved in a same-sex wedding.
Bylaw language defining marriage in the biblical sense doesn't mean a church won't face a suit or a complaint, but it does mean the church would be in a much better situation legally, said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for ADF.
"I think we're in a day where every church needs to have a statement in its bylaws of its doctrinal beliefs on marriage and sexuality," Stanley told Baptist Press. "This is a proactive approach that churches can take to head off any claims of discrimination in the future, should they occur. There's no magic language for such a bylaw statement, but it should be some form of a statement of the church's religious beliefs.
"What that does is it allows for a good defense of a church to any type of discrimination claim that may arise, by saying, 'Look, this is part of our religious beliefs.' When we fight on the ground of protecting a church's religious belief, then we have a lot of ammunition in our arsenal from a constitutional perspective."
Even without gay marriage legal nationwide, there have been lawsuits against churches.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press