The House Civil Justice Committee is holding a hearing today on a proposed new law called “The Pastor Protection Act,” which is designed to supposedly protect Florida’s clergy from performing marriages they deem "unholy." But many, including some pastors and ministers, are arguing that the law is unnecessary since clergy are already protected by the constitution. Same-sex marriage advocates say the law is designed merely to be a stepping stone to more future laws that could impede progress for the LGBT community.
"Some fear that the innocuous-sounding bill could become a vehicle late in the session for other religious-exemption or anti-LGBT proposals," civil rights advocates Equality Florida said via a statement Wednesday. They also called the law "needlessly divisive."
"The Constitution already guarantees religious freedom," Equality Florida adds.
Orlando-area Rep. Scott Plakon, who wrote the law, has said that it's "a good idea to put this extra layer of protection explicitly in Florida law."
Plakon argues that the law would protect clergy who believe that same-sex marriage as something that's against their religion, and are worried. that, in light of recent events, the government will one day force them to marry same-sex couples.
Specifically the bill, HB 43 and SB 110, is presented as a measure needed to “protect” religious leaders and institutions, but some pastors have spoken out against the bill.
In an oped in the Florida Times Union, the Rev. Clare Warren Chance called the bill "inflammatory," and that it "perpetuates homophobia."
From the oped:
All religious professionals of every persuasion have the right to choose not to marry a couple for any reason.
I have, for instance, chosen to encourage a couple to get further counseling and postpone a wedding — despite all the hubbub that caused.
I am not a public official.
I do not have to marry anyone.
I marry people out of the church’s authorization. And I do not need the state government or anyone else “assisting” me in making those choices.
"I think this is an attempt to foist other laws to stop people from having their civil rights," Rev. Bryan G. Fulwider said in a radio interview. "I think it's really dangerous."
Other clergy, however, are backing the bill.
Chris Walker, a pastor from Cathedral of Power, started a change.org petition backing the bill. The petition, which needs 25,000 signatures, has 23,917 thus far.
Walker, like the other clergy that support the bill, is afraid of being sued if he turns down a same-sex couple who come to him to get married.
Several clergy from both sides of the issue are expected to speak at the hearing on Wednesday.