Anti-gay organization targets Idaho city's anti-discrimination laws

A national anti-gay organization based in Mississippi is supporting the cause of a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, wedding chapel, the “Hitching Post,” whose owners refuse to perform same-sex weddings. 

The American Family Association – one of the biggest anti-LGBT organizations in the country with an estimated $20 million annual budget – says “homosexual bullies” are threatening to pressure the city of Coeur d’Alene to fine or arrest Donald and Evelyn Knapp, who operate the private wedding chapel. City officials say that’s nonsense.

But that’s not stopping AFA which is directing and encouraging its supporters to   flood the Coeur d’Alene mayor’s office and the office of Idaho Gov. Butch Otter with phone calls and e-mails. Hundreds are pouring in.

The governor, in the middle of a contentious re-election campaign, announced on Tuesday that he will ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a full-court review of an earlier ruling that struck down as unconstitutional Idaho’s ban on same sex marriages. They became legal in Idaho last week and at least one same same-sex couple headed to the “Hitching Post” to be married, only to be turned away.

The City of Coeur d’Alene has a law, with penalty provisions, making it illegal for businesses to discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation. Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Mike Gridley said if the Hitching Post provides public services primarily or substantially for profit and discriminates in providing those services based on sexual orientation, it likely would be in violation of the ordinance, The Spokesman-Review reported in today’s edition.

The Hitching Post, which performs secular as well as religious ceremonies, filed a federal lawsuit last week, contending the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance violates the religious rights of the business owners. Meanwhile, the Knapps recently filed paperwork with the state to make their business a religious organization which would exempt it from the city ordinance, The Spokesman-Review reported in Tuesday’s editions. The city of C’oeur d’Alene has asked the Knapps to withdraw the lawsuit, since they filed for religious exemption two weeks ago and would thus not be required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

All those developments haven’t stopped American Family from making the Hitching Post case its cause célèbre, with a new “action alert” posting on its web page. “Once again, homosexual bullies have targeted Christian-owned businesses in their attempt to silence all opposition to their sinful lifestyle,’ the AFA message says.

That has resulted in a deluge of 33,000 e-mails and an estimated 300 phone calls to the office of Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer, city spokesman Keith Erickson told Hatewatch today. The e-mail messages “all read the same,” and are cut-and-paste scripted from the AFA web site, Erickson said.

One of American Family’s senior officials, Bryan Fischer, is the former director of the Idaho Values Alliance, a former AFA state affiliate. He has said homosexuality gave the world Adolf Hitler and was responsible for the extermination of six million Jews. Fischer also has called for criminalizing gay sex which, he claims, would end “gay indoctrination” public schools. He has also advocated forcing gay people into therapy to “cure’’ homosexuality which he likens to intravenous drug use.