In February, Hawaii passed a law permitting civil unions. The law is similar to Colorado’s domestic partner bill. It contains a religious exemption saying, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to require any person authorized to perform solemnizations of marriages or civil unions to perform a solemnization of a civil union, and no such authorized person who fails or refuses for any reason to join persons in a civil union shall be subject to any fine or other penalty for the failure or refusal.”
Colorado’s Domestic Partnership law has a similar provision saying, “No priest, minister, rabbi, or other official of any religious institution or denomination shall be required to certify any domestic partnership in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by Section 4 of Article II of the Colorado Constitution.”
While the exemptions state that no one is required to certify the partnership, the question is; does that apply to an equal access use of the church, synagogue or mosque’s facilities? Some homosexual activist groups are saying that when the church opens up its facilities it is engaging in commerce and becomes subject to anti-discrimination laws.
Churches have a right to be concerned. In 2007, a lesbian couple in New Jersey sued a Methodist church association after the church refused to rent the couple a private campground for their civil union ceremony. The ministry lost its tax-exempt status over the issue.