The state House gives unanimous passage to a bill that would protect pastors and churches from being compelled to perform same-sex weddings.
The Pastor Protection Act was introduced in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) says he sponsored the bill after pastors in his district contacted him concerned they would have to go against their religious beliefs or end up in jail.
“They were worried that the government was going to step in and require that they perform marriages that they personally felt violated their faith,” he says.
The bill also prevents a religious organization from having to rent out space for an event that violates its beliefs and protects it against civil action because of that refusal.
House Speaker David Ralston, who championed the bill, came to the floor of the House to speak on its merits himself.
“By passing this bill, we will build a fortification in our law to be absolutely certain that the law of this state can never be used to infringe upon or violate that which we hold most sacred,” he says.
Even though the bill passed unanimously, some lawmakers complain it doesn’t go far enough. Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton) says it doesn’t protect all Christians who oppose same-sex marriage.
“I’m concerned that this bill creates classes of individuals and doesn’t protect all Georgians from their own government with regard to their religious beliefs,” he says.
He did not cast a vote for or against the bill.
Ralston says while some say it get goes too far and others complain it doesn’t go far enough, he thinks it’s a good first step in protecting the rights of others.
Currently there are eight religious freedom bills being considered this session including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA and the First Amendment Defense Act or FADA.
“I believe this bill shows that starting where there is agreement and mutual trust can be much more productive than attempting to span what seems to be a bottomless chasm,” he says.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) who sponsored RFRA last year in the Senate complained it now sits in a House committee where it was tabled last year. He referred to the Pastor Protection Act as the “Politician Protection Act” saying it does nothing to protect religious freedom.
“The people are demanding that something be done; and so now we have a bill that is tailor-made for direct mail pieces. It’s tailor-made for people going back home to campaign.”