In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, a group of Ohio lawmakers has introduced legislation to provide an added layer of protection to clergy and religious organizations.
House Bill 70, the Ohio Pastor Protection Act, says that no licensed minister or religious institution is required to solemnize a marriage.
The bill has 32 co-sponsors, including State Reps. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, and Margaret Ann Ruhl, R-Mount Vernon.
“We just want to make sure we protect our pastors and their right to refuse any couple,” said Ruhl.
While Brenner said he believes the First Amendment already provides clergy and religious institutions with the protections in the bill, it was done at the request of the religious community.
“This has more to do with the clergy,” he said. “They’re in panic mode. They are afraid. We have had a major outpouring of people concerned about it.”
The bill also says that a religious society is not required to provide any building or property to be used to host a marriage ceremony “if the marriage does not conform to ordained or licensed minister’s or religious society’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The bill does not prevent more progressive congregations from performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.
“If a church wants to have gay marriage, by all means let them do it,” Brenner said.
The bill also states that the clergy and religious institutions that refuse to perform the marriages are not subject to criminal or civil liability.
“I believe they are protected by the First Amendment,” said Brenner. “I think it’s more to help ease people’s minds.”
The bill does not touch on private organizations or businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages, an issue that has caused controversy in other states.
The legislation has not been assigned to a committee.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.