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Minister gay weddings or face jail

Minister gay weddings or face jail

In the early days of the same-sex marriage crusade, I had an interesting discussion with a strongly libertarian correspondent who thought redefining marriage was the more libertarian position.  He viewed it as a process of discarding the laws that restricted marriage to one man and one woman, which meant the power of government would be reduced.

I told him I understood his theory, but he was completely wrong about how this would work in practice.  The force of law and scope of government would increase, because same-sex marriage would be forced on dissenters.  The goal of this crusade was not merely to allow such marriages, but to require them, and compel everyone to not merely recognize but salute them.  This new definition of marriage would have to transcend the American understanding of religious liberty, because dissent would not be permitted, no matter what the dissenter’s religious beliefs might be.  I postulated that the number of people with sincere objections to gay marriage would be much larger than the number of gay people who actually chose to get married; therefore, the balance of compulsion would increase considerably.  It’s just that the compulsion would now be directed at a much larger group of people the dominant media culture does not find sympathetic – in fact, actively despises – so the resulting regime might claim libertarian trappings, of the “get government out of the bedroom!” variety, but in practice it would be anything but.

I suspect some gay-marriage supporters might believe the long-term result of all this compulsion would be a society in which dissent against gay marriage had been socially engineered out of existence, so the compulsive force deployed over the coming decades would eventually abate.  Needless to say, the people who find this approach laudable in the case of gay marriage would recoil in screaming horror if the same “force now, acceptance later” strategy was proposed for even the most vaguely socially-conservative end.

For years, we were assured gay marriage would never require anything so absurd as forcing ministers to marry same-sex couples.  Why, that was just slippery-slope fearmongering!  Well, here we are at the bottom of the slippery slope, having sailed past forcing bakers and photographers to participate in these ceremonies.  As The Blaze reports, a pair of Idaho ministers is indeed being forced to perform same-sex weddings, in absolute defiance of their religious convictions, under the threat of financial penalties, and even jail time.  If you support this in any way, please do the rest of us the courtesy of abandoning all pretenses to “libertarianism,” or anything resembling the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.  You really should have the intellectual honesty to propose rewriting that amendment, because its guarantees of religious freedom are not compatible with your vision of how society should be ordered, and how much compulsive force should be deployed to maintain that order.

Two ordained ministers have filed a federal lawsuit and are seeking a restraining order to prevent local officials from forcing them to marry same-sex couples, saying they have been threatened with fines and possible jail time over their refusal.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, owners of Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm, claiming that city officials told them that they are required to conduct gay marriages under a nondiscrimination ordinance.

If they do not, the Knapps say, that they could “face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines,” according to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom. The firm said the couple could face up to 180 days in jail or $1,000 in fines for each day they refuse.

“Each day the Knapps decline to perform a requested same-sex wedding ceremony, they commit a separate and distinct misdemeanor, subject to the same penalties,” reads the official complaint. “Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over three years and being fined $7,000.”

An apparent refusal reportedly came last Friday when a man called the chapel two days after gay marriage was legalized in Idaho to inquire about a same-sex ceremony. The couple declined to perform the wedding, essentially placing them in violation of the ordinance; they subsequently filed the lawsuit.

Back when people were still pretending gay marriage was compatible with individual liberty, it was commonly argued that something like this would never, ever happen, because there would be plenty of venues available to perform same-sex weddings after they were made fully legal.  The magic of the free market would kick in, and the gay wedding custom would flow around stubborn chapels like the water of a fast-moving stream flowing around rocks.  Anyone who warned that activists would deliberately seek out traditional chapels and bring in government muscle to force them into compliance, or force them out of business, was denounced as a slippery-sloper.

Speaking of getting forced out of business, believe it or not, that’s the trendy left-wing way to spin this story: the Knapps run a for-profit business, so they can keep their precious religious traditions if they just go out of business.  Just go on welfare, sign up for a food-stamp card, and you can practice your silly little religion in the basement.  Easy peasy!

While some might be wondering why ordained ministers are purportedly being forced to marry gay couples, consider that the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, which opened in 1989, is a for-profit business, which means it is not exempt from local nondiscrimination regulations.

That said, the Alliance Defending Freedom claims that Donald and Evelyn Knapp perform religious ceremonies, which include references to God and Bible scripture. The firm is fighting back, arguing that the couple should not be coerced to take actions that violate their faith.

“The government should not force ordained ministers to act contrary to their faith under threat of jail time and criminal fines,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco said. “Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that’s what is happening here — and it’s happened this quickly.”

The couple has been clear in the past that they would rather close up shop than perform same-sex ceremonies.

“I think the Bible is pretty clear that homosexuality is not his way, and therefore I cannot unite people in a way that I believe would conflict with what the Bible teaches,” Donald Knapp told KXLY-TV back in May.

I ask again: who is so deluded as to believe this bears any resemblance to “libertarianism” or the Constitutional understanding of religious freedom?  The Founders would have been rather astonished by the notion that religious freedom means the citizen can follow his conscience after sacrificing his livelihood to the almighty State.  Combined with the legal battle over ObamaCare’s contraception mandates, this case brings us a shriveled understanding of “religious freedom” as something which exists solely within the confines of a church or temple recognized by the State.  If you’re not a direct employee of such a certified reservation for religion, your conscience means nothing; you may not own the fruits of your labor unless you set your beliefs aside.  This is true even when your resistance does not actually thwart the will of the State and its chosen ones.  It doesn’t matter how many chapels, photographers, and bakers are willing and eager to do what you believe is wrong.  You will be made to do it as well; not even trivial dissent is permitted.  The water refuses to flow around the rock, no matter how wide and deep the social river might be.

If same-sex marriage is the new popular consensus, with irresistible support from the American people, why are they so rarely given a chance to vote on it?  Why is it necessary for a handful of judges to impose the new “consensus” and then set about crushing all resistance?  If a great majority has embraced same-sex marriage, why not allow their voluntary choices through the free market “punish” those who refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings, and reward those who do?  That’s exactly what would happen, if market forces and individual conscience were properly respected.  The Hitching Post is turning its back on what we are told would be a sizable market for its services.  Why wouldn’t confident same-sex marriage supporters allow them to do so, with a cheerful tip of the cap, and take their money elsewhere – including the money of heterosexual couples who find the Knapps’ stance against performing gay weddings offensive?  One wonders if perhaps the same-sex marriage groundswell doesn’t include quite as much swelling ground as we’ve been told.  It’s the unstoppable juggernaut that a few people can completely derail by politely refusing to get on board.

A common thread running through these battles over conscience and dissent is the dominant culture’s belief that dissent against same-sex marriage is insincere.  It’s viewed as a completely irrational prejudice no one could possibly hold for honest reasons.  Religious belief is viewed as a hobby to be practiced in the basement, not a deep spiritual understanding that informs every aspect of the believer’s life.  Even some secular libertarians speaking up in defense of the Knapps, and others who have resisted mandatory participation in same-sex weddings or the ObamaCare contraception mandates, treat the religion as a quaint eccentricity the resisters should be allowed to indulge in a free society.  It should not be necessary to share someone’s religious beliefs to respect them more than that.   Secular libertarians who seriously wish to help preserve religious liberty must learn to see it as more valuable than that, because I’m here to tell you, guys: our tightly fused government/media culture long ago abandoned the notion of absolute principles.  Everything is a value judgment now.  Nothing is truly off-limits to the power of the State; it awaits only an invitation from those who passionately desire its presence to enter any part of our lives.

In a contest between super-sincere same-sex couples who totally love each other and want to get married at this chapel right here, and stubborn eccentrics who defend their kooky hobby by quoting from some dusty old Bible, there is no way to hold compulsive force at bay by muttering about the theoretical right of American citizens to practice kooky hobbies.  Everyone who values liberty needs to get passionate about defending people like the Knapps, and that includes same-sex marriage proponents who believed a single word they said about valuing freedom and respecting conscience over the past decade.  You don’t have to share their beliefs in order to respect them.  And if you’re cool with the idea of using State power to break people whose beliefs you don’t agree with or respect – even when it’s not necessary to stamp out dissenters in order for your beliefs to flourish – the correct word for you is totalitarian.  It doesn’t matter one little bit that you think your beliefs are righteous.  Every other totalitarian feels the same way.

The fact that we’re having this discussion at all means that secular libertarians allowed themselves to be pushed back onto what Sun Tzu called “fatal terrain”: the ground that cannot be lost.  There is no reason to believe this new regime of coercion – this new understanding of obedience to the State’s understanding of morality in every aspect of life, by anyone who dares to engage in voluntary commerce for profit – will stop with enforcing gay marriage.  The totalitarian beast has never been sated; the taste of blood only sharpens its hunger.  What else will we be required to do, what else will we be forbidden to say, if we want to keep our property and retain our livelihoods?  What else will be imposed upon us, using the argument that what is “good” must be universal and compulsory?

Update: The rest of the Left’s spin on this story amounts to arguing that it’s excessive to say the Knapps are being “forced to perform same-sex marriages,” because they can escape fines and imprisonment by the simple expedient of going out of business.  I’ll let Sam Adams respond to that argument: “Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.  May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”


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