Gay Marriage East Lansing Farmer’s Market, Pt. 2: Providing a Wedding is not a Business Service, it is a Worship Service

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote yesterday about the city of East Lansing, MI banning a Charlotte, MI farmer from their farmer’s market because the farmer won’t allow gay marriages to be held at his farm.  (The Charlotte farmer is suing the city of East Lansing)

Via a helpful Facebook conversation about my article, I found the crux of the debate revolves around if providing a marriage is a business service or not.  The “pro East Lansing” side feels the Charlotte farmer is denying gay couples a business service in the public business sphere by not allowing them to wed on his property so he is guilty of discrimination.

1. If the farmer was unwilling to sell vegetables to gay couples, then he would be guilty of discrimination

If the farmer was unwilling to sell vegetables to gay couples, he would then be guilty of discrimination and the penalties therein.  As a farmer, his business in the public sector is farming.  In this case with the farmer’s market, it is selling vegetables.  He is not denying gay couples the right to buy his vegetables, nor is he denying Muslims, Hindus, or people having sex outside of marriage the opportunity to buy his vegetables either–all groups of people that a Christian would theoretically not allow to marry on their property because they don’t align with a Christian / biblical sacred wedding ceremony.

2. A wedding is a sacred worship service, not a public business service

I would never expect a Catholic Church, Jewish Synagogue, or Hindu Temple to allow me and my wife to marry in their building, or on their members’ private property.  The reason for this is because all of these groups see a wedding as a sacred worship service, something that is uniquely derived from their faith and religious tradition, not as the legal or business transaction which many in secular society see it as today.  I have officiated many weddings, but no one would call me a bigot if I was unwilling to officiate a Hindu wedding.  This would be the same as asking me to worship Hindu gods in my Sunday morning church service.  Hindus have the full American right to worship their gods, but the day the government comes in like the Gestapo and tells me that I too must worship those gods in my church, or in any part of my life, is the day American freedom dies at the door.

It’s not just about “gods” in the traditional religious sense, it’s that these wedding ceremonies are worship services for each of these religious groups.  The Catholic Church has every right to not allow me a Catholic wedding because I’m not Catholic!  I don’t ascribe to their beliefs about theology, God, the Church, and so on, and a wedding under their authority means we have both agreed this is the direction I and my spouse are living and pursuing.  It doesn’t mean we hate each other, far from it, but to say they must officiate my wedding is illogical and very un-American.  All of the same holds true for gay weddings, which I treat the same as I do two heterosexual people having sex outside of marriage.  The fact that two people have not agreed to follow the Bible’s design for sex does not mean that I am a bigot toward them, but it does mean I’m not going to hold the Bible over their marriage, which is the only thing I can do as a Bible-believing pastor when I officiate a wedding.  Like Hindu gods, the way we live out sexuality is a god as well.  I can’t “bless” a wedding like I carry magic pixy dust around in my pocket and I choose who to throw it on, I can only pray over (and “bless” in that sense) a wedding that is in line with the God I’m praying to (in line with God’s design for sex and marriage laid out in the Bible).  It would be a lie for me, and for the people getting married, for me to try to be so inconsistent before them and before God.  It would be as strange as singing Sunday morning worship songs to Krishna in my church.

In this East Lansing farmer’s market example, it’s like East Lansing heard that the Hindus wouldn’t let me do my wedding on their property because I’m a Christian and now have banned the Hindu farmer from their market because of it. That would be indefensible discrimination against that Hindu farmer, which I feel they are doing to this farmer from Charlotte.  They are discriminating against anyone who doesn’t hold to East Lansing’s religious views of marriage.



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5 responses to Gay Marriage East Lansing Farmer’s Market, Pt. 2: Providing a Wedding is not a Business Service, it is a Worship Service

  1. “If you don’t agree with us, you are a racist sexist bigot homophobe” Unfortunately that mindset has become all too common and shuts down the ability to have open conversations about issues like gay marriage, race, LGBT rights etc.

    For me this issue is part of a larger conversation about how to define what services can denied on the basis of religious beliefs. I think it’s fair to be able to deny someone to hold a wedding on your property that goes against your religious beliefs and it would be bigotry if you refused to sell vegetables to a gay couple but where is the line drawn? Where does baking a cake, photographing a gay wedding or fitting a tux for a gay couple fall in this discussion? I’m not sure how I feel about this and it’s difficult for me to truly understand both sides since I’m not gay or a business owner.

    All that being said I think we have redefined what the word marriage means in our society. What was once used to describe a religious sacrament is now more of a legalized domestic partnership. Atheists agnostics and gays are getting “married” for the societal benefits which I think you had a great solution for in your article last year.

    • Edit: My last paragraph is worded wrong. What I intended to say was that straight, non religious people should not feel the need to get married IF they view marriage as a religious institution just for the sake of the legal benefits of being married just like gay couples should also be entitled to the same benefits of married couples in a declared “partnership”.

  2. Providing a wedding may be a worship service, but providing the venue is a business service. This is a publicly available space to rent, whereas churches are usually not. In fact, churches often, but not always, restrict building use to members only or some limited circle of people. Further, churches are not in the business of renting their facilities. (When they do, there are potential tax consequences that are not ordinarily incurred specifically because renting the facility to the others is outside the scope of their nonprofit mission.) The farmer appears to be in the business of renting his facilities, and advertises them as available to rent. Finally, I think (but I’m not an attorney) protected classes apply to individual people, not the business entity. These are considerations you may have overlooked in writing these two posts. Food for thought…

    • Regarding the legal issue, this reminds me a lot of this case

      You make an interesting point about churches not being public places for rental. I wonder how it works legally with reception halls attached or affiliated with churches. My wedding reception was in a hall attached to a church that I was not a member of. I was told we could not have our wedding in the attached church because I wasn’t a member (I didn’t want to anyway) but we could rent out the hall. I am curious if they could legally deny a gay couple based on the affiliation with the church or if the public availability makes gay couples a protected class in this instance.

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