Indiana Makes Criminals of Pro-Gay Clergy

[See UPDATE at the end of the post–Eds.]

The old saw on the religious right has long been that if marriage equality for LGBT couples becomes the law of the land, that churches and clergy will be forced to marry those couples.

They use the rhetoric of “freedom of religion” to get special amendments written into state marriage laws that clergy will never be forced to do such a thing, or clergy will be safe from arrest if they refuse.

Apparently, this bit of “religious freedom” only extends to anti-gay churches and clergy, because in Indiana, their Republican-controlled legislature, in revising its marriage laws, has revealed a little heralded clause in the law that makes it illegal for clergy or churches in that state to marry people of the same sex, or those not eligible to legally marry.

I don’t suppose it should be a huge surprise that conservative Christians and their Republican lawmaker allies are hypocrites, but it is a bit incredulous that pro-marriage equality clergy might be under threat of arrest for “solemnizing” same-sex marriages.  That old “separation of church and state” thing that conservatives trot out—only when they need it—certainly gets shredded in this law.

Conservative Christians are the first to make it clear that the government has no business telling them whom they can and cannot marry, yet at the first available opportunity, they create laws declaring just that.

To add insult to injury, the law also carries misdemeanor charges for any same-sex couples who attempt to get married, shutting down the civil disobedience practice of gay and lesbian couples going to the marriage license office to be denied the right to marry to protest unjust marriage laws. (Unless, of course, they’re willing to be arrested for this “crime” to further underscore how ridiculous it is.)

Pro-marriage equality lawmakers have bent over backward to include “religious exemptions” in same-sex marriage laws—all while arguing that they were unnecessary, since the state can’t control what clergy do. This law—one that has so far gone unchallenged and basically unremarked upon by civil rights attorneys or plaintiffs—makes it clear that Indiana believes it has every right to control the clergy within its borders, “freedom of religion” be damned. 

So where is the outrage from those who support marriage equality?  I know religion plays a minor role within the LGBT community, but those of us who are religious, and especially those of us who are not, must stand up against this kind of abuse of power and assert the true freedom of religion for anyone who practices a faith. Clergy have always had the right to marry, or refuse to marry, any couple, for any reason without fear of punishment by the state.

This is how it must remain if “freedom of religion” is to mean anything.

 

UPDATE: 

It has been pointed out by Bilerico that this Indiana law penalizing clergy for solemnizing illegal marriages is, indeed, a real law, it has been on the books since 1997. It has come to the forefront now as the state updates its laws for the digital age. 

The article points out that it would be hard for clergy to run afoul of the law, meaning they’d probably have to file papers for said “illegal” marriage with a government office to bring about any penalty. 

However, I don’t think this clarification lessens the hypocrisy of a law on the books that would penalize clergy for marrying a couple they deemed eligible for marriage. It would seem that the clarification of the law only makes it more appealing for brave clergy to launch a civil disobedience movement to purposely violate the law to get it changed in tandem with efforts to legalize marriage equality in the state. 

The outrage remains that the state is threatening clergy who perform “illegal” weddings with fines and possible incarceration. It remains an unjust intrusion into religious freedom, and it needs to be challenged now that it has been brought to the fore. 

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)