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.
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.
Read the Knapps’ complaint here.
(H/T: Todd Starnes)