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Churches' civil unions suit dismissed in federal court

By Ken Kobayashi


Hawaii's civil unions law has survived a federal constitutional lawsuit filed by two Oahu churches contending that they should not be forced to rent their premises for same-sex civil union ceremonies.

U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright dismissed the suit by the Lighthouse Outreach Center Assembly of God and Emmanuel Temple, the House of Praise.

In a 26-page opinion issued this month, Seabright ruled that the churches did not present an issue for the court to resolve.

The judge said no one has asked the churches to use their facilities for a civil union ceremony and that the churches cannot say when and under what circumstances a request will be made, "if ever."

Any move by the state to enforce the civil unions law against the churches is "highly speculative," he said.

Seabright threw out the lawsuit "without prejudice," meaning that it may be refiled later.

Deputy Attorney General John Molay said Friday the ruling was "correct."

The judge adopted the state's position that the churches "did not have standing or the legal right to bring the suit and the dispute was not ripe or ready to be adjudicated by the court," Molay said.

Shawn Luiz, lawyer for the churches, said they won't appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in view of Seabright's ruling that the suit could be refiled later.

Luiz said they will refile if the state moves to take action against his clients for refusing to rent the facilities for same-sex civil union ceremonies.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the controversial legislation last year that allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions that provide them with the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.

The two churches sought to block the implementation of the law, which took effect Jan. 1.

But Seabright denied their request for a restraining order, saying their fears that the state would fine them were too speculative.

The litigation was put on hold while the state Legislature this year amended the law to essentially exempt churches from being required to rent their private facilities for the ceremonies.

The churches would still be required to rent their facilties that are open to the public.

The case resumed when the two churches said the exemption didn't go far enough.

They contended they should be unconditionally exempted under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The state's position is that the civil unions law applies to all churches, doesn't target any religion and protects the civil rights of people who want to use church facilities open to the public.

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wiliki wrote:
The Court is right. The Church's shouldn't try to sue on the basis of something be possible but not probable will happen. The Court needs to apply common sense to its decisions.
on October 28,2012 | 03:47AM
bender wrote:
Sooner or later someone will attempt to use one of these churches for their civil union. It is better to settle the matter beforehand than to force the church to comply while litigation is pending. You are right on one thing, the court does need to apply common sense, but it failed to do so.
on October 28,2012 | 05:53AM
Acck wrote:
Isnt the existance for these chuches based on possibility of what might happen,, and force people to comply with their common sense? Just saying....
on October 28,2012 | 07:07AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
The law precludes that possibility already. And if you think about it, what church, synagogue, mosque, etc. has EVER been forced to allow someone to be married in their place of worship? Ever? No. But if they rent OTHER facilities out to the public, then yes, they should be required to comply with public accomodations laws.
on October 28,2012 | 08:28AM
8082062424 wrote:
It just a matter of time before a gay couple try's.
on October 28,2012 | 08:41AM
wiliki wrote:
My understanding is that, according to the law, they cannot be forced to rent out the sanctuary if they only rent out reception and kitchen facilities (and perhaps even classroom and childcare facilities). That would be an interference in the practice of their religion.

I think that these churches have a problem with performing any ceremony in any area of the church grounds even if the marrying parties rent out the area. The church can't control what happens in the areas that it rents out. For example what if the couple set up a small canopy in the corner of the reception hall for the ceremony. They might even decide to take it outside under a large tree if the weather is good as it often is in Hawaii.

on October 28,2012 | 02:33PM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Doesn't mean they would succeed.
on October 28,2012 | 04:23PM
IEBuzzin wrote:
And who gets to wear the gown? That's the real question.
on October 28,2012 | 05:03PM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Only a question from ignorance.
on October 28,2012 | 06:35PM
soundofreason wrote:
Kind of like trying to force a pro-life organization to pay for an abortion. This contradicts the basic beliefs/foundation of most churches. Go see a justice of the peace.
on October 28,2012 | 08:23AM
8082062424 wrote:
well said
on October 28,2012 | 08:43AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Not even close to the same thing. If a place of worship doesn't want to let them use their sanctuary, the law makes sure that is honored. But if they rent out facilities to the public (which none of them do for their actual churches) then they have to follow the law like everyone else.
on October 28,2012 | 04:25PM
hawaiikone wrote:
on October 28,2012 | 05:20PM
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