New bill may allow religious leaders to opt-out of performing same-sex marriage

Graphic+by+Cody+Bass

Graphic by Cody Bass

Last week, Sen. Charles Younger introduced a bill that would “clarify that religious leaders are not required to perform same-sex marriages”.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act remains the same, but the bill adds the  definition of a “religious leader.”

The bill distinguishes that the government shall not substantially afflict a religious leader’s exercise of religion “by requiring him to perform or solemnize any marriage inconsistent with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

Rob Hill, director of the Human Rights Campaign Mississippi and a former Methodist pastor in Jackson, called bills like this a “pastor protection bill” that prevents clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.

“When you think about what we have on the Legislature’s plate this year with the fiscal shortfall, issues like this should be low on their list of things to do,” Hill said. “Certainly elevating this stigma that already exists for LGBT people in Mississippi is unnecessary, and it’s not right.”

Hill said the bill is not necessary, as the First Amendment protects any religious leader from performing a ritual he or she prefers not to perform. Hill said the bill is directed toward the LGBT community in Mississippi.

Pastors in Ohio could be subject to the same situation. Those who decline to perform same-sex marriages would be protected from lawsuits by a now bill, potential law known was the Ohio Pastor Protection Act. The bill would state that a licensed minister or religious society is not required to solemnize a marriage that does not conform to their religious beliefs.

Senior communication studies major Daniel Jay said lawmakers should stray from proposing bills that limit the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“Bills proposing to restrict two people of the same gender from suing is the first issue,” Jay said. “The more similar-laws made, the more restrictions the LGBTQ community is going to have to undergo, and society does not need this after gay marriage was just made legal.”

Representative Nino Vitale said the bill is not a form of discrimination against a certain group, but is a form of protection for religious leaders and properties from being legally forced to carry out a marriage against their religious beliefs. The bill also regulates that a church or religious society could deny renting its property to gay couples for weddings and other events.

Texas signed a version of the Pastor Protection Act into action in 2015 Texas Governor Greg Abbott agreed to restrict gays from suing religious leaders in the case couples are denied. Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama also have similar bills going through the state’s legislative process. In Georgia, lawmakers passed the “Pastor Protection Act ” out of the House floor on Thursday with a 161-0 vote.