The Florida House of Representatives on Tuesday began its consideration of legislation to ensure clergy members, ministers and other “religious organization” employees could legally refuse to perform gay marriages.
The bill (HB 43), which has been called the “Pastor Protection Act,” is being billed as a “conscience protection” measure by its sponsor, state Rep. Scott Plakon.
The bill was on “special order” Tuesday, meaning members could ask questions of Plakon and offer amendments. Debate and a final vote of the chamber on the measure is expected Wednesday.
Plakon, a Longwood Republican, brushed off several questions from Democrats as inapposite, such as whether bakers could refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding under his bill: “That’s not the subject of this bill.”
But the bill was later amended Tuesday to include religious organizations, corporations and associations from having to “provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to” performing a gay marriage.
State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican, said it was meant to cover organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the world’s biggest Catholic fraternal organization.
Plakon said he began drafting the bill even before the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages came out this past June. The bulk of the bill was copied from a similar Texas law, he said.
“It’s our court and we have to live with it,” Plakon said. “I happen to disagree.”
He cited several examples of laws protecting those with “sincerely held beliefs,” including a vegetarian bus driver who refused to hand out hamburger coupons to boost ridership.
As it worked through the committee process, many ministers from older mainline religions opposed the bill and even more from smaller evangelical churches were strongly in support.
Equality Florida, the state’s LGBTQ advocacy group, has called the bill “needlessly divisive,” saying there are no known cases in which clergy have been sued or charged for refusing to marry gay couples.