Churches May Be Forced to Rent Their Facilities to Gay Couples

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By Jeff Schapiro, Christian Post Reporter
April 25, 2012|12:05 pm

The city of Hutchinson, Kan., is mulling over a proposed law that would force some churches in the community, regardless of their religious convictions, to rent their church halls to gay couples for events.

The proposal came about after the Kansas Equality Coalition encouraged the Hutchinson City Council to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the city's human relations code. The law would make it illegal for churches that rent their facilities to the public to prevent anyone from renting their facility based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"If a church has a parish hall that they rent out to the general public, they could not discriminate against a gay couple who want to rent the building for a party," states an eight-page document from the city's Human Relations Commission that explains the law. Churches can choose to be exempt from the law, but only if they stop renting to the public and rent only to their members.

According to the document, local employers would also be required to allow employees to dress according to their gender identity. The law will even allow transgenders to use restrooms, shower facilities, and locker rooms based on their gender identity instead of their birth sex.

The Kansas Family Policy Council (KFPC), an organization dedicated to defending Christian values, explains on their Awaken Kansas project website why they believe this "Bathroom Bill" is dangerous, saying, "The truth is that women and children who live in areas of the country where these ordinances and laws exist can never be certain that they will not encounter men in restrooms, locker rooms, or changing rooms at department stores."

Because of that uncertainty, Robert Noland, executive director of KFPC, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that he is specifically concerned with the possibility that sexual predators might use the new law to take advantage of women and children.

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"The people supporting this measure don't like this argument, however we do believe it opens up the door for predatory practices...we have to face the fact that that's a risk that could happen," he said.

Noland recognizes that there are a number of churches and denominations that would have no problem with allowing gay couples to have parties and events in their facilities, but other churches don't believe they should "accommodate or encourage" biblically immoral behavior.

"We've had several churches that say, 'Even if this passes, we will not comply if we're approached to use our facilities in this manner,'" he said.

On Apr. 17, the KFPC delivered a petition against the ordinance with over 880 signatures to the City Commission in Hutchinson. Similar ordinances are being considered in the Kansas cities of Salina, Wichita and Pittsburg, and one has already been established in Lawrence.

Meryl Dye, a spokesperson for the Hutchinson Human Relations Commission, told Fox News that these laws are similar to those that protect people from discrimination based on race.

"They would not be able to discriminate against gay and lesbian or transgender individuals," said Dye. "That type of protection parallels to what you find in race discrimination. If a church provides lodging or rents a facility they could not discriminate based on race. It's along that kind of thinking."

But Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs for the Liberty Institute, says race is different because it is an "immutable characteristic." He also says the proposed law is at odds with the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

"There are major constitutional violations and concerns here," said Saenz. "Obviously when the government tries to force a private religious institution to do anything, the government's going to find themselves in...hot water."

Another problem is that some of the definitions for terms used in the law are too vague, he says. One such example is the phrase "gender identity."

"What it really means is: when someone rolls out of bed one day they can decide whether they want to be a man, a woman or something in between," said Saenz

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, also believes the law is unconstitutional. He told CP in an emailed statement that Hutchinson appears to want to "force churches back into their own four walls."

"It is the church that decides what is acceptable for itself under its religious doctrine and it is not the government's role to force a church to violate that doctrine," he said. "This ordinance should never pass because it is unconstitutional. But if it does and Hutchinson attempts to force churches to violate their religious beliefs, ADF will not hesitate to use the legal process to protect the constitutional rights of churches."

 

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