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-Insurance Problems for Churches Who Won’t Perform Same-Sex Weddings?

by Dr. D ~ July 10th, 2015


Liability Insurance for Churches

In the aftermath of the SCOTUS decision legalizing same-sex marriage, some churches are now finding out that they have no liability insurance coverage if they are sued for refusing to perform same-sex ceremonies. Here’s the story from  the National Review:

Churches, like virtually every functioning corporation, protect against liability risks and the potentially ruinous costs of litigation through liability insurance. With same-sex marriage now recognized as a constitutional right …
…at least one insurer has responded with a preemptory denial: no coverage if a church is sued for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding.

On July 1, David Karns, vice president of underwriting at Southern Mutual Church Insurance Company (which “serve[s] more than 8,400 churches”), wrote an “all states” agents’ bulletin addressing same-sex marriage. It begins:

“We have received numerous calls and emails regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriages. The main concern is whether or not liability coverage applies in the event a church gets sued for declining to perform a same-sex marriage.  …we do offer Miscellaneous Legal Defense Coverage. This is not liability coverage, but rather expense reimbursement for defense costs. There is no coverage for any judgments against an insured.
<Read the whole article>

Response: This is no small matter. This denial of coverage is from an insurance company which covers over 8, 400 churches and insurance for churches is their major business. If this company denies liability coverage then you can bet that other companies less interested in churches will also.

Pastors and church administrators now need to check out where they now stand on this issue with the company now providing their current liability coverage. This may not be a problem for churches in denominations that provide their own insurance coverage and legal support. But a lawsuit could be devastating for an independent non-denominational church without coverage.

Is this really going to be an issue? Probably not in the near future but don’t bet on  it. From all I can read, Christian schools, organizations, and non-profits are the next major targets for gay activists.

However, a ruling by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission should be a major concern for churches in that state. They recently made the claim that a “church service open to the public” is not a “bona fide religious purpose” that would limit application of their discrimination laws. Since nearly all church services are open to the ‘public’ than it would seem to follow that churches in Iowa might all be vulnerable to lawsuits if they ‘discriminate’ against ordaining or marrying gays. Any suit would probably be appealed but can you imagine the cost in legal fees? It would be prohibitive for most small independent churches. This is just one state but others like California may soon be following this example in some form or another.               *Top

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2 Responses to -Insurance Problems for Churches Who Won’t Perform Same-Sex Weddings?

  1. Brian

    The insurance coverage is not really an issue, Dr. D. The letter that was sent by the insurance company said basically, “our liability insurance policies only cover your church for bodily injury, property damage and a few other things (libel or false imprisonment, for example). We would not cover a lawsuit for gay marriage.” They are saying nothing “new” there, and, in fact, there are specialized policies that would help with legal costs (although would not pay any judgment).

    The real issue here is that the insurance industry is bracing for a LOT of litigation, with churches being targeted sooner rather than later.


  2. Dr. D

    Brain, thanks for the clarification. That is exactly what the insurance company was saying here.

    The real surprise is for pastors and church administrators who might believe that their liability coverage would help them if sued over this issue.

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