Bill Allowing Clergy To Deny Marriages Advances In LA House

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A lawmaker's proposal aimed at protecting clergy and churches from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies was advanced Tuesday to the full Louisiana House for debate.

         Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, said the "Pastor Protection Act" was limited in scope, meant to protect clergy, churches and religious organization from violating a "sincerely held religious belief" in ceremonies they perform or host. He said no other groups could deny services under his bill because its language "does nothing more and nothing less" than provide "a very basic level of protection."

         "This is a measure that's designed only to ensure that a religious leader can't be forced by the government to participate in, or conduct, a wedding that violates his or her sincerely held religious belief. Period. That's all it is," Johnson said of the bill modeled after a Texas statute.

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         The House Civil Law and Procedure Committee sent the measure to the House floor in a 7-3 vote along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. The panel heard lengthy debate on the topic Tuesday, but Johnson said he does not want any of his colleagues to think the bill does anything more than what is written.

         "It's a harmless piece of legislation," he said.

         Opponents called the proposal discriminatory, unnecessary and suggested it could harm Louisiana's economy in the wake of North Carolina and Mississippi's strongly criticized religious objections legislation. Johnson said his bill was very different.

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         Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace, said he would understand if the bill catered only to clergy, but he worried other organizations may try to "cloak themselves" to discriminate when providing goods or services to same-sex couples, interracial couples or other individuals under the proposal's wording.

         Johnson countered that Gaines' concerns were addressed by the bill's narrow language.

         Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, ultimately supported the proposal, but he questioned whether lawmakers had a solution that looked for a problem.

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         Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, supports the bill in its current form.

         Johnson vowed to oppose any major changes, saying: "I will not accept any amendments to this bill as it goes forward to broaden or expand the scope or the language of the bill."

         Johnson introduced a broader religious objections bill last year, but his proposal was rejected by the House committee amid opposition from business groups and LGBT advocates. After the bill was rejected, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order attempting to reproduce some of the points in the stalled legislation, though questions were raised about whether it had the force of law. A lawsuit challenging Jindal's order as unconstitutional is pending.

         – by AP Reporter Megan Trimble

         For more information on House Bill 597 click here


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