AP Hypes Baseless Claim That Churches Will Be Forced To Perform Same-Sex Weddings

The Associated Press granted anti-gay groups a platform to spread the unfounded claim that churches could soon be forced to perform same-sex weddings.

In an August 24 story, the AP reported that, in response to the Supreme Court's marriage equality rulings in June, many churches are updating their bylaws to clarify that they won't be blessing same-sex unions. Churches are well within their rights to change their bylaws, but the extension of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples has never posed a threat to churches' right not to perform same-sex weddings. Instead of noting the clear and definitive distinction between civil and religious marriage, however, the AP chose to follow a he said/she said model of journalism to promote a false narrative:

Worried they could be sued by gay couples, some churches are changing their bylaws to reflect their view that the Bible allows only marriage between one man and one woman.

Although there have been lawsuits against wedding industry businesses that refuse to serve gay couples, attorneys promoting the bylaw changes say they don't know of any lawsuits against churches.

Critics say the changes are unnecessary, but some churches fear that it's only a matter of time before one of them is sued.

“I thought marriage was always between one man and one woman, but the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said no,” said Gregory S. Erwin, an attorney for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, an association of Southern Baptist churches and one several groups advising churches to change their bylaws. “I think it's better to be prepared because the law is changing. America is changing.”

The AP proceeded to cite Kevin Snider, a lawyer with the anti-gay Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), who claimed - without evidence - that some members of the religious community are facing lawsuits for refusing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies:

Kevin Snider is an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense group that specializes in conservative Christian issues. His organization released a model marriage policy a few years ago in response to a statewide gay marriage fight in California. Snider said some religious leaders have been threatened with lawsuits for declining to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Neither Snider nor the AP could provide an example of even a threat of a lawsuit, much less one that has been filed.

Furthermore, the AP would have been more accurate in describing PJI not as a group that “specializes in conservative Christian issues,” but as an organization dedicated to maligning LGBT individuals. Last fall, PJI filed a lawsuit against California's ban on the harmful and discredited practice of “ex-gay” therapy for minors. In 2011, PJI President Brad Dacus blasted a California gender diversity education program, describing it as an effort to “indoctrinate” students. Dacus has also said it's “risky and wrong” to teach kids not to use “gay” and “lesbian” as insults, criticized anti-bullying campaigns, and claimed that teaching students about LGBT history would lead to a “sexualized” curriculum.

The AP also quoted Eric Rassbach, an attorney from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who defended the necessity of the church bylaws. The AP, which described the Becket Fund as “a public interest legal group that defends the free expression rights of all faiths,” ignored the organization's extremist background. In 2008, the Becket Fund's founder and chairman compared gay rights protestors to Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the organization is linked to the theocratic Dominonist movement, which, Right Wing Watch noted, “believes that Christians are called to take 'dominion' over every aspect of our culture,” including the government.

These assertions that marriage equality imperils religious liberty are hardly new. The AP now joins the ranks of fiercely anti-gay commentators like Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro and Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes in pushing this thoroughly discredited narrative.