After being halted last session, the so-called Pastor Protection Act appears primed to receive a full vote in the Ohio House of Representatives. The stated purpose is to protect religious officials from being forced to perform marriages that are against their beliefs. There is no record of this ever happening and all religious officials have this protection built into the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The true purpose of this bill is for powerful lobbying interests to frame themselves as being victimized by an oppressed minority.
It is Unnecessary
The ACLU of Ohio is strongly committed to upholding our Constitution, and would gladly defend the rights of pastors to choose who they marry. This right is enshrined in the First Amendment, making any legislative attempt to “protect” it totally redundant. What is the point, you might ask, if the bill affirms a fundamental right that everyone already supports?
It is Dangerous
But this bill would go further than just restating existing religious freedoms. It 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 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.
It is Divisive
Finally, this bill seeks to divide us. As Ohioans, we must reject false narratives that marriage equality and religious freedom are incompatible. It has been less than two years since national marriage equality, and the LGBTQ community is still vulnerable to legislative attacks on their rights. Now more than ever, we should stand against efforts to pit religious groups against LGBTQ people. Instead, we should look for common ground and work together to affirm everyone’s rights.