The Supreme Court is expected to announce a ruling on state gay marriage bans this month that could, depending on the ruling’s wording, legalize same sex marriage nationwide. Anticipating the decision, religious leaders, fearing they will lose their tax-exempt status or be forced to wed gay couples, are banding together in protest.
A coalition of those religious leaders purchased an ad in the Washington Post Wednesday, which takes the form of an open letter to the Supreme Court Justices urging them to uphold traditional marriage. The letter reads in part:
We are Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian pastors, clergy, lay leaders and Jewish leaders, who collectively represent millions of people in our specific churches, parishes, denominations, synagogues and media ministry outreaches.
So far, more than 43,000 people have signed a petition supporting traditional marriage, many of them church leaders fearful that if gay marriage becomes constitutional, their refusal to participate will jeopardize their tax-exempt status and even land them in legal trouble.
Pastor Robert Jeffress, who signed the letter and leads a 12,000 member congregation at First Dallas Baptist Church, compared himself to Martin Luther King for his civil disobedience.
“That may mean we experience jail time, loss of tax-exempt status, but as the Scripture says, we ought to obey God rather than man, and that’s our choice,” Jeffress told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Jeffress said when he announced to his congregation his decision to take a stand on the issue, they gave him a standing ovation.
Cases of legal punishment for bakers and florists who refused to serve gay weddings have fueled this fear. In Washington state, an elderly florist named Barronelle Stutzman was sued by a gay couple for discrimination after she refused to arrange flowers for their wedding.
She lost the legal battle and could lose everything to pay the fines. Religious leaders have warily watched Stutzman and others like her and want to preemptively protect themselves.
“We implore this court to not step outside of its legitimate authority and unleash religious persecution and discrimination against people of faith,” the letter continues. “We will be forced to choose between the state and our conscience, which is informed by clear biblical and church doctrine and the natural created order.”
During oral arguments in April, Justice Antonin Scalia raised similar concerns, asking if exemptions that protected religious leaders from prosecution for discrimination would still hold if gay marriage became a constitutional right. Scalia posed this question to Mary L. Bonauto, council for the petitioners in the case:
[O]nce it’s — it’s made a matter of constitutional law, those exceptions — for example, is it — is it conceivable that a minister who is authorized by the State to conduct marriage can decline to marry two men if indeed this Court holds that they have a constitutional right to marry? Is it conceivable that that would be allowed?
Scalia also questioned whether the state would give clergymen the authority to marry if they would refuse to marry gay couples:
If you let the States do it, you can make an exception. The state can say, yes, two men can marry, but — but ministers who do not believe in same-sex marriage will still be authorized to conduct marriages on behalf of the state. You can’t do that once it is a constitutional proscription.
These questions are the ones haunting religious leaders and driving them to have their voice heard before the ruling which is expected to come down this month.
“The Supreme Court, regardless of what they may think, is not the highest authority in the land,” Jeffress told TheDCNF.