The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Faith-based hypocrisy or discrimination?

Once again we have a wedding venue saying they will not serve same-sex couples and using the false excuse it violates their religious beliefs: follow our logic before you assume we’re wrong. David Abel of The Star Barn in Pennsylvania claims he’s a devout Catholic and for that reason only allows weddings in accordance with Catholic teaching on his property.

This is clearly false. While anti-gay is in keeping with his Catholicism the venue regularly allows marriages in violation of the owner’s “faith beliefs.” For instance, they do not forbid divorced couples from renting the venue for a second wedding, even though this violates the owner’s Catholicism it is allowed. Abel only invokes his faith against same-sex couples.

Star Barn consistently allow entirely “invalid” marriages according to Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church says a marriage is valid, even if someone isn’t Catholic, if it meets four requirements according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

First, both partners must be “free to marry,” which means neither of them were previously married and divorced. Someone who was married and killed their spouse can remarry according to the Church, not someone who divorced their spouse. As long as the first spouse is dead they can remarry. If the ex-spouse is still alive the marriage is a violation of church teaching. The Star Barn does not investigate prior marriages of customers. They only impose their faith requirements on gay couples, not all couples.

Second, a couple must freely exchange their consent. No problem there for Mr. Abel.

Third, they must meet three other requirements regarding the vows they make.

3a: The couple must marry for life. Most people intend this so Abel usually meets the requirement, but he doesn’t bother to check either way.

3b: The couple must intend to be monogamous. As far as I can see Star Barn never bothers to investigate if couples renting their venue intend to be monogamous. They don’t actively ban non-monogamous couples from marrying. This faith-based church teaching is entirely ignored by Mr. Abel.

3c: The couple must be open to having children. The Catholic Church is clear on what this means. NO BIRTH CONTROL and vaginal intercourse only. Here Star Barn ignores their own church yet again. They do not demand marriages performed in their venue meet this standard of Catholicism.

It might be argued that they don’t impose this on couples marrying because the couples may not be Catholic. But that is also true for gay couples who may not be Catholic. Abel’s justification is based on his church’s teachings no on the faith of those renting his venue. And those teachings are ONLY applied to gay couples.

3d: The marriage must be performed before witnesses and a properly credentialed priest. Star Ranch doesn’t even come close to meeting this “faith based” standard.

There are even more requirements for a valid marriage if either of the partners is actually Catholic. If one spouse is Catholic and the other is not the couple must seek special permission from the Church to marry. This is called a “dispensation from disparity of cult.” Mr. Abel will rent his venue to Catholics intending to marry non-Catholics whether they meet Church teachings or not.

On top of all this if either spouse is a Catholic they have to secure special permission to hold the ceremony at a venue such as Star Barn. The very fact Abel rents his facilities to Catholics to marry is proof he doesn’t obey Church teaching on wedding venues. Only a local bishop can give a couple permission to marry in a venue that isn’t a Catholic Church.

Mr. Abel may consider himself a devout Catholic but his very business is an assault on Catholic teaching since he rents his venue to Catholics to marry whether or not they have secured a bishop’s permission to do so or not.

Abel argues he is against discrimination but will uphold his Church’s teachings on marriage. Abel’s own actions prove both those claims to be false. Mr. Abel doesn’t uphold Catholic teaching on marriage on a regular basis. He only invokes his Catholicism when it comes to same-sex couples. Opposite-sex couples can rent his venue even when they do NOT do so in keeping with Catholic dogma. They may be divorced, non-monogamous, practice birth control, and even reject the idea marriage is for life and they can rent the venue.

When you have religious rules but you only impose them on gay couples and never on the rest of your clients then it is only discrimination at work, not an attempt to follow one’s own faith. We saw this exact same sort of hypocrisy in the uniformed fundamentalism of Kim Davis who was a one term county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Davis insisted she was following her fundamentalist faith when she refused marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis wanted to impose church teachings on gay couples though she ignored the teachings herself.

Davis was married four times to three different men yet her church considers only the first marriage valid. She was married and pregnant with twins when she divorced. Her second husband was the father of the twins conceived while she was married to her first husband. Her excuse was she wasn’t “saved when she did those things, yet after she found religion she stayed in her fourth marriage and continued to live with a man her own faith said wasn’t her real husband and still does so today.

One of the things I’ve noticed is far more often than not “faith”is used as a weapon against others, not as a code of conduct for the believer. Davis and Abel are examples of individuals who use religion to send anti-gay messages but who conveniently ignore those religious beliefs when it comes to other matters. Davis never applied her “faith”to her own marriage and Abel regularly rents his facilities for marriages that violate Catholic beliefs. Only when they see a same-sex do they suddenly discover a piety they ignore in regards to all other marriages. The selective application of religious dogma isn’t faith, it’s hypocrisy, and when it’s only applied to one group of people, and not all others, it’s clearly discrimination that is at work.

Note: We attempted to contact Mr. Abel and sent him a short, polite e-mail asking about whether he applies Catholic doctrine to all marraiges or only to same-sex couples. Abel reported the e-mail as spam and did not answer. Given no such requirements are listed on his website we can only conclude they do not exist.



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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.