House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) has told his fellow House Republicans that he wants them to adopt a “pastor’s protection act” ensuring no faith leader can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding—even though clergy already appear to have that protection.
The comments came at a caucus meeting on Saturday in Jekyll Island, according to the AJC. Ralston said he planned on advocating for the bill when the 2016 legislative session begins in January.
Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen told the AJC that the current working of the bill would read:
No minister of the gospel or cleric or religious practitioner ordained or authorized to solemnize marriages according to the usages of the denomination, when acting in his or her official religious capacity, shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion.
However, it appears that faith leaders already have those protections under the U.S. Constitution.
“The First Amendment already protects the right of pastors to decline solemnizing any marriage inconsistent with the tenets of their faith. Obergefell did not change that fundamental principle,” out constitutional scholar Anthony Kreis tells Georgia Voice. “It was always permissible, for example, for a rabbi to refuse to perform a marriage for an interfaith couple notwithstanding their constitutional right to marry civilly.”
Georgia Voice found instances in the (not so distant) past of faith leaders refusing to perform interracial marriages as well, and doing so without consequence. And even the Family Research Council, who are designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have a page on their website dedicated to assuring members of the clergy and other concerned parties.
“Churches and ministers have solid protection under the First Amendment,” it reads. “At time of publication, there is no appreciable risk that clergy would be compelled by a court to host or perform a same-sex ceremony.”
They then go on to list the specific protections under the First Amendment.
“Every marriage equality bill enacted by state legislatures since 2009 has reaffirmed the First Amendment right of clergy to perform marriages consistent with their religious teachings in statute,” Kries says. “So while legislation is not legally necessary, there is a long practice of reaffirming the right in legislation. In short, there’s nothing new about the Speaker’s proposal that we haven’t seen or that should spark resistance.”