FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
In the wake of last year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, a bill dubbed the “Pastor Protection Act” has cleared its first Senate panel.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted 7-3 to approve the measure (SB 110), filed by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. The bill is aimed at preventing clergy members from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies contrary to their principles.
“It is a huge, bitter pill to swallow,” Bean said of the Supreme Court ruling that said same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. “This (bill) makes it a little easier.”
The measure’s supporters said religious leaders need to know that their churches, temples and mosques won’t lose a tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
Senators questioned Bean about whether the bill was necessary, given that religious freedom is guaranteed under the First Amendment.
“I would never concede that Florida pastors are not protected,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.
Supporters of the bill acknowledged that religious leaders are currently protected from performing marriages to which they object. But they said the landscape is changing so fast that additional protection is needed.
“We’re in a different world,” Bean said. “Pastors are in doubt as to their religious freedom.
The House version of the bill (HB 43), filed by state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has been approved by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and was scheduled to be heard Thursday – after the Florida Courier’s press time – by the House Judiciary Committee.