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Idaho Wedding Chapel That Refuses To Marry Gays Sets Off Conservative Alarm Bells

Jessica Robinson
Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Religious conservatives around the country are rallying to the defense of a wedding chapel in north Idaho whose owners don’t want to perform gay marriages.

The mayor of Coeur d’Alene and governor of Idaho are being inundated by hundreds of calls and thousands of emails even though neither has taken any action against the wedding chapel.

The quaint Old West-style wedding chapel called the Hitching Post is just across the street from the county courthouse in Coeur d’Alene.

The owners filed a preemptive federal lawsuit against the city right after same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho. Donald and Evelyn Knapp say in court papers that gay marriage is against their religious beliefs. They fear jail time and fines if they turn away a gay couple because Coeur d’Alene has a city ordinance that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

City spokesman Keith Erickson says more than 2,300 protest messages have come into the mayor's office. But Erickson says the city has not cited the Hitching Post.

“The city has no intention to take action,” he said. “I mean nobody's complained or filed a formal inquiry into why are they denying same-sex marriages.”

This case brings up the same issues as other disputes involving aflower shop in Washingtonand a bakery in Oregon that refused to provide services for same-sex weddings. The couple that owns the Hitching Post are both ordained ministers, so they might qualify for exemption, but that is complicated by the fact their wedding chapel is a for-profit business.

Both the city anti-discrimination laws in Idaho and the state laws in Oregon and Washington exempt religious institutions. But Coeur d'Alene's city attorney has said that only applies to religious non-profits.

Coeur d’Alene’s ordinance also says it must be applied "in a manner consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence regarding the freedom of speech and exercise of religion.”

The owners of the Hitching Post say they’ve received two calls from gay couples since same-sex marriage took effect by court order in Idaho. Attorneys for the owners of the Hitching Post have asked the federal court for a temporary restraining order against the city.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp's lawyers said the couple shouldn’t have to choose between their business and their religious convictions.

Coeur d’Alene is one of seven Idaho cities that have passed anti-discrimination laws that protect sexual orientation.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.