Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives passed legislation last week to protect pastors who object on religious grounds to performing certain marriage ceremonies.
Conservative lawmakers have been working on the bill — the Pastor Protection Act — ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country.
In addition to protecting pastors and religious leaders from legal penalties for refusing to perform certain weddings, the law also stipulates that no “religious society” is required to allow such a marriage to be hosted on its property, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
While the U.S. and state constitutions already protect against such infringements on religious rights, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Nino Vitale, said he hopes the legislation will help prevent “tension” between different groups of people with disparate religious beliefs and convictions.
“Do we want Ohio to be a state that imposes something on pastors that is against their deeply held religious beliefs?” Vitale asked last Wednesday before the vote on the law, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. “This is not a sword. This bill is intended to be a shield to protect everyone’s rights. Are we going to allow groups to sue each other and use the heavy hand of the courts?”
The goal of the law, Vitale added in an interview with WCMH-TV, is “to relieve.”
There are some, though, opposed to the legislation. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, argued the conservative law does more than just bolster pre-existing religious liberty protections.
In a statement, the ACLU of Ohio said the bill “enters uncharted waters by protecting the rights of ‘religious societies’ to determine who they serve.”
“With this vague provision, it seems likely that accommodations owned by churches could be rented out selectively, opening the door to discrimination in the public sphere,” the statement continued. “The ACLU of Ohio believes that when church-owned, non-worship spaces like gazebos and halls are advertised to the public, they should be available to the public. And that means everyone.”
One GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mike Duffey, voted against the Republican-backed bill:
I voted against the Pastor Protection Act because the U.S. Constitution need not be second guessed! Our religious freedom is already fully protected in every way proposed, so let’s not send a signal to our talented LGBT Ohioans that they are unwelcome. Ohio is open for business.
— Mike Duffey (@VoteMikeDuffey) June 27, 2018
The religious liberty law is now headed to the state Senate, where Senate President Larry Obhof said it will likely pass without much difficulty, according to the Journal.
This legislation comes not long after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips of Lakewood, Colorado. The ruling brought an end to a bitter battle over his refusal to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple seeking his services.
In their 7-2 ruling, the justices of the high court found the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed “hostility” toward Phillips’ support for traditional marriage — a view well within the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy — and acted inconsistently with the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.