Calif. Senate Bill Looks to Protect Clergy From Forced Same-Sex Marriages

A new bill being pushed by the California State Senate looks to alleviate the fears of supporters of Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state, by trying to ensure that members of the clergy will not be forced to marry homosexual couples.

Senate Bill 1140, proposed by Sen. Mark Leno, (D-San Francisco), will specifically look to protect churches' nonprofit status if clergy members refuse to perform gay marriages.

"Whether or not one believes that all Californians should have equal marriage rights or should be treated equally under the law, I think we can all agree that protecting religious freedom is important," Leno has said, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Although the bill clarifies and reinstates rights already protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, it also states that marriage is a civil contract, not a religious one, and should not interfere with church beliefs and policies.

Besides protecting churches, the aim of the bill seems to be to make it easier for opponents to change their minds and lend their support to same-sex marriage, if it is made certain that it would not enforce churches to marry gay and lesbian couples.

The measure could "make it easier for people as a matter of conscience to be able to support gay or lesbian unions," said the Rev. Alan Jones of Sacramento's St. Mark's United Methodist Church.

"Some clergy feel that they don't want to be pressured to do gay marriages, but they have no objections to gay marriage. They just don't want to be the ones officiating," he added.

However, not all churches are willing to accept Senate Bill 1140 as the solution to the same-sex marriage debate in California.

"Their objective is they oppose marriage equality and are afraid this will take away one of their major arguments," said the Rev. Rick Schlosser, executive director of the California Council of Churches

Others have also suggested that claiming that marriage is a civil and not religious contract only creates further confusion.

"It doesn't do what it is reported to do, which is to protect religion, and it creates confusion by introducing a new definition of marriage," remarked Bill May, president of Catholics for the Common Good.

 Meanwhile, Proposition 8 is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after earlier this month a federal appeals court rejected a request to reconsider an earlier decision that struck it down.

"The legal team looks forward to standing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the people's right to preserve the fundamental building block of civilization, especially since the dissents accompanying today's decision strongly support our arguments. The democratic process and the most important human institution -- marriage -- shouldn't be overthrown based on the demands of Hollywood activists," said Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Brian Raum following the decision.

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