Florida's "Protect a Pastor" Act to Set Up Another Battle Between Christian Fundamentalists and Gays

Florida's "Protect a Pastor" Act to Set Up Another Battle Between Christian Fundamentalists and Gays
Photo by Benson Kua | CC2.0

Remember back in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that interracial marriage should be legal throughout all of America in Loving v. Virginia? That was a pretty good decision, I think we all agree, don't we? 

One interesting note about that is that not one single pastor, priest, or minister was forced by the government to perform an interracial marriage ceremony. In fact, even to this day you can still find an occasional wackadoo pastor out there who refuses to marry interracial couples. They may face a public backlash, but the government doesn't revoke their church's tax-exempt status, nor throws the pastor in jail. In the same way they wouldn't punish a Catholic priest from officiating the wedding of two Jewish people. 

So, now, almost 50 years later, there's no reason nor legal precedent to believe that a pastor would ever be forced to marry a gay couple. In fact, the issue came up during deliberations during the Supreme Court hearing on the matter, and the pro-gay marriage site specifically pointed out that they were not in any way seeking a ruling in which pastors would be forced to marry gay couples. 

"Your Honor, of course the Constitution will continue to apply, and right to this day, no clergy is forced to marry any couple that they don't want to marry," argued attorney Mary Bonato before the Supreme Court. "We have those protections."

It's never been a serious question of anyone familiar with constitutional law that churches would be forced to perform gay marriage. 

Yet, Republican lawmakers in Florida seem to think this could be the case, so they've introduced a "Protect a Pastor" act to, uh, protect pastors from threats that don't actually exist. 

State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and state Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, both began writing up similar legislation pretty much as soon as the Supreme Court decision came down in May, and today Plakon's House version passed its first subcommittee hearing up in Tallahassee. Every Republican on the Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted in favor of it; every Democrat voted against it. 

Here's the meat of the bill: 

"A church or religious organization, an organization supervised or controlled by or in connection with a church or religious organization, an individual employed by a church or religious organization while acting in the scope of that  employment, or a clergy member or minister may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage if such an action would cause the church, organization, or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief of the entity or individual."

Plakon and Bean pretty much copy and pasted the same language from a Texas bill that was signed into law earlier this year. 

In Texas, supporters said it was good to give pastors "peace of mind." Plakon is pretty much saying the same thing. 

"They say that churches, pastors, and clergy are not targets," Plakon told Christian news site Charisma Caucus. "They say this bill is unnecessary. But, if you look at the way the courts have twisted the laws over the past few years, what is the harm in having this type of comfort and protection for pastors and clergy?" 

In reality this isn't much of a "Protect a Pastor" act as it is the "give pastors peace of mind act." 

What's the harm? Well, wasting government time and taxpayer money by holding hearings on it, for one. 

There's also the little matter that it's a law that creates unneeded division and controversy among Floridians and fuels fantasies that Christians are somehow under attack from the gays. 

Naturally, gay rights groups in the state are already organized against the bill. 

You'd think we all could move on? But, what can we say? Everyone in this country loves controversy, division, and a chance to pretend to be a victim. 

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