The Sexist

A Guide to Gay Wedding Discrimination

Catholic Block: Church fights to keep weddings swinging one way.

The authors of the D.C. gay marriage bill are sensitive folks. While they’re eager to grant gays and lesbians the right to get hitched in the District, they don’t want to upset conservative churches in town. So they threw an exemption into the pending gay-marriage bill [PDF]: No church will be obligated to wed same-sexers. It’s a ceremonial loophole that’s not nearly wide enough for the D.C. arm of the Catholic Church. “The language of the bill only protects us on the day of,” says Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Archdiocese of Washington. “But for us, that day is the launching point for the rest of your life. It’s not a day-long event. It’s a life-long journey.”

Translation: The Archdiocese wants to discriminate against gays and lesbians for much longer than just 24 hours. And that’s their problem with the legislation—same-sex spouses must be treated equally over the course of that life-long journey, for purposes of hiring practices, employment benefits, and adoption.

Yet for that one glorious day, when those bells chime, discrimination rules! The legislation says any “religious society, or a nonprofit organization which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious society” may deny same-sex couples any “services, accommodations, facilities, or goods for a purpose related to the solemnization or celebration of a same-sex marriage.”

So just what sort of “services, accommodations, facilities, or goods” can be safely withheld here? The following is your guide to Legal Same-Sex Wedding Day Discrimination.

PIANISTS. The “facility” exemption prevents a church opposing same-sex marriage from providing its religious sanctuary for the wedding. But what goods and services are we talking about? The goods and services provision prevents a crafty same-sex couple from walking into a house of God and demanding everything but the church hall for the purpose of their ceremony: From the in-house organist playing “Here Comes the Bride” to the Bibles used to recite Colossians 3:18: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

Russell J. Weismann, Georgetown University’s director of music and liturgy, serves as the organist for all weddings performed on campus. The Yale-, Duquesne-, and Carnegie Mellon–educated pianist doesn’t play for just anyone: Besides not being gay, couples who march down the aisle to Weismann’s tune must also be Georgetown students, alumni, faculty, or staff. The religious exemption, then, ensures that Weismann’s services won’t need to be legally extended to a couple of Catholic, Georgetown-educated gays who are either serious Weismann fans, or are just trying to make a point.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who chairs the committee that finalized the bill’s language, says that goods and services are included in the religious exemption in order to prepare for just such unlikely scenarios. “If a same-sex couple went to a Catholic church, the bill says the church does not have to perform their wedding,” says Mendelson. “But what if the same-sex couple says, ‘We won’t hold our wedding in your sanctuary, but we want to use your Bibles and candles’? If ‘goods and services’ were omitted from the language, the church could be sued over the Bibles and the candles.” And the pianist.

SOUL FOOD. Saint’s Paradise, a divine cafeteria-style restaurant located at 601A M St. NW, is the perfect spot for a rehearsal dinner in the heart of overpriced, overcrowded downtown D.C.: It’s got family-sized tables, free cornbread, and a very pleasant view of the baptism fountain of the United House of Prayer for All People. The church, true to its name, doles out its extra-sweet candied yams to churchgoers and the general public alike.

That “all people” invitation doesn’t extend to weddings. Pastor Herbert Whitner clarifies the church’s position on gay marriage: “We don’t agree with that,” Whitner says. Same-sex celebrations aren’t exactly welcome on United House of Prayer property.

Rehearsal dinners, however, aren’t strictly a day-of event—they’re more of a night-before kind of thing. Mendelson says the cafeteria’s physical proximity to the church—the restaurant is at 601A, the house of God is at 601—allows the United House of Prayer to deny all wedding-related celebrations, regardless of their timestamp. “I think they could turn away the rehearsal dinner,” Mendelson says. “That’s because it is in the church. It’s a part of the church facility. And since the rehearsal dinner is part of the celebration of marriage, they would be able to say no.”

“SOMETHING OLD.” The Salvation Army’s sole District shop, located in Northeast’s H Street corridor, wouldn’t be high on the list of any couple’s wedding destinations. Its aisles are a bit cluttered for a procession, seating is limited, and the place smells kind of weird.

What some engaged couples may not know: Beyond its work recycling consumers’ castaways, the Salvation Army is a real functioning Christian church with a penchant for military jargon. Their ministers—“officers” in the Army’s ranks—can be ordained to perform marriages for both Salvationist and non-Salvationist couples. Salvationist marriages are less than traditional. Ranking Salvationist officers are allowed to marry only other officers. Cake is allowed, so long as the couple says grace before the meal, but alcohol is forbidden. Some Salvationists choose to marry in full Army regalia, but the traditional white wedding dress is acceptable, as well. And since the Salvationist moral code is all about giving back, it’s not unlikely that one of these Salvationist ceremonies will lead to one slightly worn, dirt-cheap white dress gracing the racks at 1375 H St. NE.

Since a wedding dress is a good that’s used in the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and the Salvation Army’s religious beliefs clarify that “sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage,” would the Army’s thrift store be forced to sell a wedding dress for a gay wedding?

Mendelson says that a religious-owned thrift shop is too removed from the actual church, and a wedding dress purchase too removed from the ceremony, for the exemption to apply to wedding-related retail: “The bill is intended to establish equality for same-sex marriage. If we have exemptions in the sale of wedding dresses, in the baking of wedding cakes, in catering, in photography, then we have a separate and not equal situation.”

Besides, how would the Salvation Army know that the wedding dress is to be used for a same-sex ceremony? “For wedding dresses to be covered, we’d have to allow the checker at the store to say, ‘I’m offended that you’re homosexual so therefore I will not sell you the wedding dress,’” says Mendelson. “A wedding dress could be a part of a Halloween costume. You can’t just stop anyone who is a part of a same-sex couple and say, ‘No, you can’t buy that.’”

Since the Salvation Army hasn’t adopted “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a part of its military shtick, it’s possible that the organization’s thrift shops will not hold their peace in the face of a same-sex marriage dress-fitting. This situation—the Salvation Army making policy out of denying white dresses to same-sex couples—is about as likely as a couple of gay men suing Georgetown over its pianist. Then again, in 2001, the Salvation Army privately called upon the Bush administration to help the organization discriminate against gays and lesbians in hiring. Who’s to say the Army won’t take this opportunity to deny an affordable wedding dress to a lesbian?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Bill

    Great article.

    But very, very sad.

    Sad that people who present themselves as 'people of god' are TRULY anything but.

    Sad that these 'people of god' have been too damaged by religion to see the error of their ways.

    I sincerely hope that one day they will seek the truth in god and ask god to forgive them for the damage and destruction that these 'people of god' have DIRECTLY caused to innocent people's lives.

    God will forgive them.

    And so will we.

  • Jacob

    The simple solution to this is that there should be no exception at all. As the Archdiocese of Washington has demonstrated many religious groups are not interested in negotiating in good faith they are interested in stopping the legislation completely and, if they can't do that, preserving their "right" to discriminate and the council should not play into their hands. Freedom of religion doesn't mean religious institutions are above the law it simply means the law can't favor one faith over other (or no) religions and it certainly does not exempt religious organizations from anti-discrimination laws.

  • Cowcharge

    This is silly. I don't see how or why church exemptions should matter to anyone. If the engaged couple are not part of the church that doesn't want to marry them, why the hell would they care that the church doesn't want to marry them? Are Satanists offended that they can't get married in a Catholic church? Are they delusional enough to expect to be able to? And if the couple IS part of that church, how can they reconcile having religious beliefs that brand themselves as less than human in the first place? This sounds like militant people who just want to force people to accomodate them in order to rub their noses in it, and to take delight in offending them. If the bill passes, there will be no shortage of people willing to marry them. Trying to force a church that disapproves of same-sex marriage to marry a same-sex couple is just as bad as the church trying to force its gay bans on people who don't subscribe to their particular mythology. And before the Bible-thumping homophobe comments start, for the record, I voted FOR same-sex marriage in my state, and barring weddings and funerals, I haven't set foot in a church since I was 18. So just do your best to win your rights, and stop trying to rub people's noses in it. You'll gain a lot more support that way.

  • Rev. Starlene Burns

    We are focusing on the views of the church right now, when in fact a lot of vendors discriminate against same sex couples. And discrimination will be only end when change is constant. This too shall past and same sex couples will be treated equally. However, there should be no laws protecting anyone from discrimination lawsuits.

  • elaygee

    Churches who wish to discriminate have every right to, BUT, they should have their tax exempt status removed and start paying taxes. If they will not serve all tax paying citizens equally, they should not get a free ticket on taxes.

  • Reid

    To the extent you bother to come back a read comments, just understand that you seem to have been misinformed about the legislation. Just re-read the post; churches are not going to be forced to host gay weddings. This whole post is about how far that exemption reaches, namely that they don't have to rent out their bibles or candles or whatever either. They don't even have to rent out a meeting hall if it's close enough to the church.

    As written, this is still a huge license to discriminate. For the church to cry about their religious rights/rites is pathetic. Besides, their central complaint seems to stem from what sort of benefits they'll have to extend to their employees. Of course nothing in this legislation changes anything on that end. Right now gay employees of the Catholic church can go to Connecticut or Iowa and get married and under District law, they're married. Whatever benefits that the church feels to compelled to offer against their bigoted, sorry, religious convictions they are already compelled to offer.

    This is nothing other than a bigoted organization that is losing a fight and is willing to sacrifice the interests of the poor and sick to get what it wants. Of course once you take out from the bible the parts about helping the poor and the sick, you're left with a pretty thin pamphlet.

  • Pingback: Web Site Attempts to Convince Gay Priests To Stop Being Hypocrites - The Sexist - Washington City Paper

  • gay GU grad who will marry elsewhere

    Churches have every right to follow the tenants of their faith, but the Catholic Church picks and chooses the targets for its animous and outrage. Catholic teaching doesn't accept divorce and re-marriage. Yet Catholics for decades have lived in a country where divorce is common, without the Church collapsing. Many Catholics choose to ignore Church teaching and get civil divorces. But Catholic Charities doesn't refuse to provide spousal benefits to the spouses of its divorced and re-married employees. The organization also doesn't refuse adoption services to divorced and re-married Catholics. The Catholic Church's inconsistency makes their hostility toward gays more striking.

    Of course, most DC residents don't realize that gays aren't the only targets of Catholic discrimination. While accepting public dollars to fund its activities, Catholic Charities also refuses to provide adoption services to Jews, Muslims, agnostics and atheists. Such policies blatantly violate DC's human rights laws and show a Church that hypocritically howls for its religious views to be followed while it tramples on the religious beliefs of others.

    Catholic Charities (and its wildly overpaid CEO) should stop accepting public dollars or start following the law.

  • October

    Hi Cowcharge,

    a lady called Rosa Parks refused to obay a bus driver, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

    She was "delusional enough" (to re-use your words) to think she should be able to sit where ever she wanted in this bus. Maybe it's time for an equally delusional gay couple to stand up for their rights, too- even if or because their church preaches homophobia from the pulpit.

    Rosa Parks could have easily made way for that white passanger in 1955, but she didn't and this changed the world we live in today for the better.

  • Pingback: The Christian Side-Hug: “Front Hugs Be Too Sinful” - The Sexist - Washington City Paper

  • Pingback: We’re Number 1 In Gay Households - The Sexist - Washington City Paper

  • Pingback: RSS agregator » Blog Archive » Front Hugs are SINFUL now…

  • Rev. Starlene Burns

    30 days and counting. Civil rights change for same sex couples in DC. I pray that nothing stops this from happening. Discrimination needs to end.

  • foam koozie styles

    U have a nice post!
    It is so interesting and realistic !
    Thanks for sharing !

  • boobookittyf@ck

    guess no one remembers the idiot last year that tried to sue a print shop for daring to print a bible that called homosexuality an abomination.
    Why have these exemptions? Because the gays in question are less interested in marriage, and more interested in "being the first", or winning $$$ in a lawsuit. You can always count on the greed and stupidity of people, they are one of the few truly universal qualities of our species.