COLUMBUS—A day after legislators formally introduced the “Pastors Protection Act,” it is already receiving sponsor and proponent hearings in the House Community and Family Advancement Committee, indicating it may be on the fast track. HB 36 is a solution in search for a problem. It claims to stop lawsuits from same-sex couples against clergy who wish to decline marrying the couples because it is against their faith.
But are there clergy in Ohio being forced to act against their will in the interests of LGBTQ rights? No.
Here’s the reason: legal protections for religious freedom are fundamental in our society, which is why they are constitutionally protected. Put another way, clergy of all faiths can perform marriage duties in a manner fitting with their beliefs without worry of recourse––and that includes denying to ordain the marriage of a same-sex couple.
“Religious liberty is a fundamental right held by Americans,” said Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, “which is precisely why these protections are protected by the First Amendment and Article I of Ohio’s Constitution. Ordained clergy can already decide who they marry––and who they don’t––according to their beliefs. We strongly support the separation of church and state.”
Not only is this bill redundant––simply reiterating existing law––but it could have unintended consequences on the duties of Ohio’s civil servants. For example, it is unclear whether a clergy member who also happens to be a local judge could opt-out of solemnizing marriages in her official capacity as judge.
“House Bill 36 opens a Pandora’s box of problems that could significantly roll back marriage equality in Ohio. It may allow businesses or other officials to discriminate against same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court was clear that people should not be treated unfairly because of who they love, yet politicians continue to try and undermine this basic right,” said Lisa Wurm, policy manager of the ACLU of Ohio.
Melissa Alexander, Co-Chair of TransOhio said: “In addition to the concerns over redundancy over this legislation, since any religious leader including pastors have always been free to decide who to marry in their church, synagogue, mosque even prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, TransOhio is also concerned with the lack of any definition of the term “religious society” in the proposed statute. Such ambiguity will only further complicate the implications of this legislation and lead to further unnecessary litigation.”
"HB36 is mean-spirited, unnecessary legislation,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. "No pastor has been forced to perform any marriage outside of his or her religious beliefs and practices. It's disappointing to see Ohio lawmakers wasting time and resources on solving a problem that does not exist."
LGBTQ people are clearly being targeted by this bill, and this bill would not exist prior to same-sex marriage being legal. It is remarkable that those who often argue for smaller government seek now to put forward regulations in the name of religious protections already provided by our federal and state constitutions.