ACLU: Idaho chapel a religious corp., falls under religious exemption

Hitching Post wedding chapel, Coeur D Alene, ID

Hitching Post wedding chapel, Coeur D Alene, ID

BOISE, Idaho — The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho says it will not challenge a northern Idaho wedding chapel’s refusal to conduct same-sex marriages because the chapel falls under a religious exemption.

Hitching Post wedding chapel, Coeur D Alene, ID

Hitching Post wedding chapel, Coeur D Alene, ID

Interim Executive Director Leo Morales said in a news conference Thursday that the Hitching Post became a religious corporation in Idaho nearly a month ago.

Morales said the ACLU believes that under its new business classification, the chapel does not have to comply with the city of Coeur d’Alene’s ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation because the chapel only provides religious services.

Unlike most churches, which are tax-exempt and private organizations, a religious corporation is still considered for-profit.

However, the ACLU said it would reconsider its position if the Hitching Post begins offering secular services, such as providing flowers, cake or holds non-religious marriage ceremonies.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian religious rights legal organization that has been at the center of fights opposing same-sex marriage and legal protections for LGBT individuals, filed a federal lawsuit last week against the city contending the chapel could be compelled to perform gay marriages under the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Conservatives and religious rights advocates seized on the story, claiming that the Hitching Post’s owners were were being forced to marry same-sex couples — even claiming the ministers have been arrested.

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But city spokesman Keith Erickson says there have been no threats, and that the city has not even received any complaints against the chapel.

In a letter to Alliance Defending Freedom, Coeur d’Alene attorney Mike Gridley said that wedding chapel owners Don and Lynn Knapp would be exempted from the city ordinance if they were operating as a nonprofit religious organization.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15. Six days later, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter filed a petition asking for an 11-judge review of the federal court’s decision to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Otter listed the Hitching Post as a business that would be harmed if the “traditional” definition of marriage was changed in Idaho.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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