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Government/Politics

Pastors Group Pushes Passage Of Religious Freedom Bill

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State senators are wrangling over a bill that would protect clergy who don’t want to perform same-sex marriages.

The author of the bill is Sen. Craig Estes, a Republican from Wichita Falls. He says some religious leaders in Texas oppose gay marriage. They’re waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue in June, and they want to make sure they won’t be legally required to marry same-sex couples.

“It does not limit or have any impact on who can apply for a government marriage license, but it does make clear that a person is not subject to civil or criminal penalties for not performing a marriage ceremony based on sincerely-held religious beliefs,” Estes told fellow colleagues.

Estes says the bill is modeled after legislation passed by the Oklahoma state legislature as a preemptive response to the Supreme Court ruling.

Dr. Steve Branson is the pastor of the Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio. He fears there will be legal reprisal against religious leaders if the U.S. Supreme court strikes down gay-marriage bans in states like Texas.

“We think it’s going to become a real threat and if the law is not in place we’ll be dragged to court, but it’s coming, if the law is changed it’s coming,” Branson said.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
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Chuck Smith, Executive Director for Equality Texas

  Chuck Smith, the Executive Director of the LGBT-rights group Equality Texas says he will support a revised version of the bill as long as it sticks to religious freedoms.  

“We are supportive of religious liberties and can be supportive of legislation that is clearly narrow enough that no clergyperson shall ever be compelled to perform a religious ceremony that doesn’t conform to the tenants of their faith,” Smith explained.

Smith opposes the legislation in its current form because it would create a loophole for a county Justice of the Peace to deny services to same-sex couples, should that Justice of the Peace also serve as a ordained minister in that county.

He’s asked the bill’s author to remove some of the language that creates a broader, more secular reason for denying a gay couple permission to marry inside the church.

The bill is expected to be sent to the full Senate for a vote in the next week.