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Same-gender Marriage and Pastors

In an interview with Club Adventist (h/t Religious Liberty), Mitch Tyner – recently retired Associate General Counsel for the General Conference and former Associate Director of PARL – takes on the argument that legalizing same-gender marriage would disenfranchise pastors and local churches.

Will the legalization of gay marriage harm religious freedom? What about the right of churches to discriminate?

I believe that opposition by churches to equality based on sexual orientation is one of the leading causes of opposition to advancing religious liberty protections. For a lengthy treatment of the subject, see my chapter in the recently released book, Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Adventist Perspectives, published by the Association of Adventist Forums.

Does the legalization of gay marriage in California mean that pastors have to perform the marriages?

No pastor, at least in the US, can be forced to marry anyone. The Adventist ministers manual says that I can marry two members or two non-members, but not one of each. That is pure religious discrimination, but it is not illegal. On the other hand, if a pastor is a public employee, such as a chaplain, we might have a different situation.

If a government decides that pastors should not preach about a certain topic, such as homosexuality as a sin, what would the legal department do?

That depends on what country you’re talking about. In the US, we would have a winning law suit. There is no way a US court would approve government efforts to dictate sermon content. My impression is that the same result would be reached in Canada, other common law countries, and virtually everywhere except the most repressive regimes, where the ability to successfully contest government intrusion doesn’t really exist anyway. Thus all the verbiage about the danger of churches being muzzled and pastors being required to perform gay marriages is, in my view, mere hype.

Significantly, Mr. Tyner has a MA from the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary as well as a JD. He has spent double digit years pastoring before spending several decades representing Adventists in religious liberty court cases.

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