Fresh from a political defeat, local religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage are hosting a daylong conference later this month to make sure people of faith know their rights.
Many of the groups fear Minnesotans’ religious freedoms are under attack, not just with same-sex marriage laws, but throughout society.
“We want to provide practical legal information for people of faith so they understand their legal rights, to know what those rights are and what they are not,” said Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, a regional network of evangelical churches.
The Minnesota Religious Freedom Forum, which will be Oct. 24 in downtown St. Paul, is expected to draw 500 people of many faiths to hear legal experts from around the country. The event is sponsored by several local Christian groups, including the Minnesota Family Council, which fought unsuccessfully to block same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
“This is a vital training opportunity to inform pastors, leaders of religious organizations, business owners and employees, licensed professionals, students, and other individuals how to live out our faith wisely and with confidence now that same-sex ‘marriage’ has become law,” the Minnesota Family Council wrote to supporters.
The group says there are practically no religious protections in the new law, despite assurances from same-sex marriage supporters that the new law specifically ensures that religious leaders who oppose gay marriage don’t have to perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
“Hostility from the culture to the free expression of our faith in the public square is nothing new, but now, like never before, that hostility has the force of law behind it,” the Family Council says.
Nelsons said the event will be more wide-ranging than just the marriage issue, and is not a first step to reignite a new marriage fight. “We are not trying to pick up the marriage fight battle in the legislative sense at all,” he said.
But there remain a lot of questions and uncertainty, he said.
In other states where same-sex marriage is legal, like Washington, state human rights officials have pursued stiff fines against wedding businesses that refuse to provide goods and services to gay and lesbian couples.
That has yet to happen in the two months gay marriage has been legal in Minnesota, but same-sex marriage opponents are watching closely to see if state officials start investigating businesses owners who refuse to work for same-sex couples.
Nelson said it is not fair that some business would be targeted when there are plenty of other businesses happy to work with gay and lesbian couples.
“There’s no reason to hunt out photographers and florists and cake makers who are unwilling to do so, and poke a needle in their side,” he said.
Officials with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights said that anti-discrimination laws prohibit businesses that provide wedding services or products from refusing to work with a same-sex couple based on sexual orientation.
To do so is discrimination no different from refusing to serve someone who is black, Jewish or Muslim, the state says.
This leads to a broader question about religious freedom sure to arise at the forum. Americans have the right to worship freely, but supporters want broader protections. “Can the living out of one’s faith be protected as well?” Nelson asked. “We think it should.”