Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit Moot – City Backs Down
I’ve covered the Idaho “Hitching Post” gay marriage case. I started with a relatively in-depth look at the legal issues involved on Monday, and then covered some inconsistencies in the history of the Hitching Post’s religious designation yesterday.
Today, though, it has all been resolved. The Hitching Post’s recent change from performing civil marriages as well as religious marriages to performing ONLY Christian religious ceremonies, and explicitly forming themselves as a religious business 3 weeks ago, have now exempted them from the anti-discrimination ordinance.
From Boise State Public Radio:
Initially, the city said its anti-discrimination law did apply to the Hitching Post, since it is a commercial business. Earlier this week, Coeur d’Alene city attorney Mike Gridley sent a letter to the Knapps’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom saying the Hitching Post would have to become a not-for-profit to be exempt.
But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit.
“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 explained.
Now, it’s partly incorrect to draw some links between this case and Hobby Lobby. That of course involved a federal law whereas this is a city ordinance, and that case was decided on the grounds of the federal RFRA, where the religious exemption is what protects the Hitching Post here. (That said, Idaho has an RFRA, and virtually everyone is in agreement here that forcing the ministers themselves to officiate the ceremony would violate it.)
But at the same time, there were a few things in that decision (and the precedent discussed in the decision) that are instructive.
The first is that Hobby Lobby held that a “closely held” corporation could have religious beliefs, in the sense that it was the direct expression of a very small-knit group of owners. While a publicly-traded corporation wouldn’t have the same protection, a corporation held by a small religious family is entitled to the same protections under RFRA that the owners themselves would be, because the corporation is not truly separable from them as owners.
The second is that under previous RFRA cases, generally any sincerely-held religious belief is taken at face value. The Court isn’t in the business of deciding what religious beliefs are “valid” and what religious beliefs aren’t. Thus, as long as the actions of the Hitching Post are consistent as a religious corporation, forcing them to offer services to same-sex engaged couples violates their religious freedom. Thus, from the Boise article again:
Leo Morales of the ACLU of Idaho said the exemption makes sense as long as the Hitching Post primarily performs religious ceremonies.
“However, if they do non-religious ceremonies as well, they would be violating the anti-discrimination ordinance,” Morales said. “It’s the religious activity that’s being protected.”
So while some of the red-meat Conservatives were hoping that this would be the wedge that destroys gay marriage, I think everyone’s out of the water.
And to the Knapps, while I profoundly disagree with your belief, and sincerely hope that you come to my side of the aisle on this one, I am glad that you won’t be going to prison or subject to fines. As a libertarian, I think you’re wrong, but as you haven’t taken anyone’s rights away by failing to offer them services, I’m not in the camp that wants to throw you in a cage for it.