Legal Protections for the Church in Light of SOGI Rights and Laws


The following is a paper submitted to Dr. Robert Priest and Dr. Stephen Roy in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course ME 8000 Contemporary Sexualities: Theological and Missiological Perspectives at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, December 2015.

** Note: This is not an opinion piece. And, therefore, I do not express my opinions about same-sex sexuality, gender dysphoria, and contemporary laws related to them in this paper. Thus, you will note, I refer to differing views on the subjects without expressing my approval or disapproval. Please do not interpret my silence in this regards as either an endorsement or condemnation of any of the herein mentioned views.


Recent U.S. legislation and court decisions regarding sexual-orientation and gender identity (from now on SOGI) rights create a new frontier of potential legal concerns for American churches that affirm a traditional, historic view of marriage, sexuality, and gender. Although only time can tell what implications such laws will have for religious liberties,[1] as Justice Roberts said in his dissenting opinion of the Obergefell ruling, “Today’s [i.e., the Obergefell] decision . . . creates serious questions about religious liberty.”[2] From potential loss of tax-exempt status[3] to non-discrimination suits,[4] churches have reason to demonstrate concern. For example, think of the following scenarios that are now imaginable:

  • A discrimination lawsuit is filed against a church that refuses to accept a practicing gay man into its membership.
  • A church is sued for discrimination when it denies a gay couple’s request to host their wedding.
  • A church disciplines a member for unrepentant lesbian activity. She sues the church for malpractice and discrimination.
  • A church discovers that an employee is undergoing sex-realignment surgery. Is the church legally able to discharge them on these grounds?
  • A church’s pastor is sued for malpractice by an ex-counselee due to claimed damages caused by counsel to “repent of your homosexuality.”
  • A church with a housing ministry is sued for discrimination when it restricts applicants to heterosexual couples.

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