Senator’s bill protects pastors who refuse to marry gays

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

A day after the proposal emerged in the House, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, filed a bill Tuesday aimed at protecting churches and clergy members if they refuse to perform marriages that violate their beliefs.

Same-sex couples listen during a mass wedding ceremony on Jan. 6 at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach. (CARLINE JEAN/SUN SENTINEL/TNS)
Same-sex couples listen during a mass wedding ceremony on Jan. 6 at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach.
(CARLINE JEAN/SUN SENTINEL/TNS)

The Bean bill (SB 110) and the identical House bill (HB 43), filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, stem from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. The bills will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January.

Under the proposal, clergy members, churches and religious organizations would not be required to perform marriages or provide related services “if such an action would cause the church, organization, or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief of the entity or individual.”

Called an insult
The proposal would provide a shield from criminal or civil liability and also would provide protections for religious organizations’ tax exemptions, government contracts, grants and licenses.

“We just think that it’s a good idea to put this in law now, so that no pastor or religious professional would ever have to be forced to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Plakon said.

But Carlos Guillermo Smith of the advocacy group Equality Florida, which was a key supporter of legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, criticized the legislation. He said ministers already can refuse to marry couples.

“This bill is a real insult to LGBT families,’’ Smith said. “What it does is it implies that pastors need protection from LGBT Floridians.”

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