The city of Coeur d'Alene in Idaho has reportedly realized that a for-profit wedding chapel owned by Christian ministers Donald Knapp and his wife, Evelyn, can refuse to perform same-sex marriages without violating "non-discrimination" laws.
The city earlier maintained that its "non-discrimination" ordinance requires the Knapps, who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies because the courts have overridden Idaho's voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
The couple needed to be a not-for-profit to be exempt from the ordinance §9.56, which bars facilities of public accommodation from discrimination, the city had said.
However, Coeur d'Alene city attorney Mike Gridley now says the ordinance doesn't specify non-profit or for-profit, according to Boise State Public Radio.
"After we've looked at this some more, we have come to the conclusion they would be exempt from our ordinance because they are a religious corporation," Gridley was quoted as saying.
The Hitching Post reorganized earlier this month as a "religious corporation," according to court filings, which includes owners' description as having deeply held beliefs that marriage should be between a man and a woman, the Public Radio reports.
Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization, told The Christian Post earlier that while Coeur d'Alene has an ordinance saying that under "public accommodation" businesses cannot discriminate, state law offers a possible exemption for the Knapps.
"In addition to our federal claims (i.e. First Amendment), our complaint brings a cause of action under the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act," Tedesco said. "[Under] Idaho Code § 73–401 et seq., this state law says 'government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion ...'"
ADF attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for temporarily restraining Coeur d'Alene city officials from forcing them to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The city is "unconstitutionally coercing" the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies "in violation of their religious beliefs, their ordination vows, and their consciences," the lawsuit states.
The couple, both in their 60s, can either violate their religious convictions and ministerial vows by performing gay wedding ceremonies or follow their religious convictions and vows by declining to perform such ceremonies and face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, it adds.
"Worse, 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. Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over 3 years and being fined $7,000," the lawsuit explains.
According to the ordinance, this discrimination can include denying "any person because of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression, the full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges of any place of public resort, accommodation, assemblage, or amusement."