13 June 2016

Bill Protecting Pastors Against Same-Sex Marriage Lawsuits

Ohio Bill
Concerned that a pastor could one day be sued for refusing to perform a same-sex marriage, a western Ohio Republican finally pushed his leadership to allow a vote on a bill designed to ensure that such lawsuits can’t happen.

Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, said he has counted the votes and there is "no question" there are enough to pass House Bill 286, which he calls the Ohio Pastor Protection Act. The widely popular bill already has 25 co-sponsors and counting.

The bill specifies that no minister or religious society is required to perform a marriage that does not conform to "sincerely held religious beliefs." It also grants civil immunity for refusal to perform such a marriage.

"If one is opposed to this simple and short piece of legislation, that would mean you are for suing Ohio pastors and Ohio church properties and forcing them to do things against their own religious beliefs," Vitale said, before quoting from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In its analysis, the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission wrote: "Because the bill refers only to marriages between a husband and wife, a reviewing court might rule that the bill does not apply to same-sex marriages and does not permit a minister or religious society to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage."

Vitale said there have been no lawsuits in Ohio stemming from a refusal to perform a marriage, but the world changed following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that states must allow marriages between same-couples.

Some church leaders and the Ohio Christian Alliance were on Capitol Square on Tuesday trying to urge lawmakers to vote on the bill.

"Not only is this a grand concern on the hearts of Ohioans, but this is a critical issue at this moment," said Senior Pastor Tim Throckmorton of Crossroads Church in Circleville.

Vitale suggested political considerations have held up a vote.

"There are small groups of people who often say, 'I don't want that on the floor. I don't want to vote on that piece of legislation,'" he said.

The ACLU of Ohio says the bill does not include a tight enough definition of "religious societies" and could allow groups loosely affiliated with religion to prohibit use of public areas for weddings.