Over the last few days I’ve seen a number of people starting to panic about Illinois House Bill 110, a same-sex marriage bill that is rumored to contain language that would force churches to perform same-sex marriages regardless of the churches’ stand on homosexuality. I’ve done what most lawmakers won’t do and read the legislation (thankfully it wasn’t too long), and it seems that this panic is an overreaction.
The confusion seems to come from the inclusion of language regarding “public benefit” which has been misinterpreted to mean that since churches receive tax exemptions, they would be required to make their facilities available for same-sex marriages. The bill actually addresses churches that “make the religious facility available to the general public for rental or for use […] for which public funding or other public benefit is received.” This is not a matter of whether the church itself is tax-exempt, but a matter of the purposes for which the church allows the general public access. A church that is not in the practice of renting out its facilities to the general public would not find itself under any mandate to violate its religious beliefs.
Below are a few excerpts from this bill (with superfluous language excluded) that should make this a bit easier to understand (with the language specifically causing the issue in red):
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious denomination […] or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination […] to solemnize any marriage. Instead, any religious denomination […] or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination […] is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize. No refusal by a religious denomination […] or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination […] shall create or be the basis for any civil, administrative, or criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action.
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require a religious organization […] to make available a parish hall or other religious facility on the premises of a church […] for solemnization or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of the religious organization’s religious beliefs, provided that:
(A) the religious facility is primarily used by members of the parish or congregation for worship and other religious purposes;
(B) for solemnization and celebration of marriages, the religious organization generally restricts use of the religious facility to its members and opens the facility only occasionally to non-members on an unpaid basis; and
(C) the religious organization does not make the religious facility available to the general public for rental or use for which a rental fee or other compensation is required or for which public funding or other public benefit is received.
See specifically page 4 and page 5 for the full text of the sections referenced above.