Texas Senate passes bill protecting pastors who refuse part in same-sex marriages

by Gregory Tomlin, |

AUSTIN (Christian Examiner) – The Texas Senate passed a bill May 12 that offers legal protections to pastors who refuse to perform any marriage because of their religious convictions.

Senate Bill 2065, sponsored by Sen. Craig Estes [R-Wichita Falls], and known as the "Freedom of Religion with Respect to Recognizing or Performing Certain Marriages," has been under fire from same-sex marriage advocates because, they say, the bill protects discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay and transgender community. But the bill does not specifically mention "same-sex marriage."

Instead, the bill – which would amend the state's Family Code if signed into law – recognizes that an employee of a religious organization, an affiliate, or an individual employed by a religious organization "may not be required to solemnize any marriage, provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, or treat any marriage as valid for any purpose if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief."

The bill also provides that the refusal to solemnize, recognize or celebrate a marriage is not grounds for a civil or criminal complaint.

SB 2065 now moves on to the Texas House of Representatives for a vote. If passed there, the bill will head to Gov. Greg Abbot's desk for signature. The governor has said he will sign the bill when passed by the House.

Only one Democratic state senator, Eddie Lucio Jr. [D-Brownsville], voted in favor of the bill, which passed by a margin of 21-10.

According to Breitbart Texas, Democrats attempted to amend the bill before its passage. Sen. Jose Menendez [D-San Antonio] proposed adding the words "in that capacity" to limit the scenarios under which a religious organization, its affiliate or an individual minister could refuse to solemnize, recognize, form or celebrate a marriage objected to on religious grounds.

A second, more extensive amendment proposed by Menendez would have required religious organizations or individuals protected by the law to "post notice of that fact in all places of business of the organization or individual, including an Internet website. The notice may refer to the religious beliefs of the organization or the individual. The notice must specifically state the persons to whom, and the marriages in connection with which, the organization or individual refuses to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges."

Both amendments were tabled after a senators approved a motion by Sen. Estes, Breitbart reported.

Democrats have claimed the bill is too broad and will create a climate of discrimination against homosexuals, but Estes has addressed the concerns by claiming that the bill "will not limit or have any impact on who can apply for a government marriage license," the Austin American-Statesman reported.

"This bill makes it clear, from a state policy perspective, that clergy are not required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies if doing so would violate a sincerely held religious belief," Estes said.

However, House Bill 4105, which Texas representatives have lined up for debate and a vote this week in the House will, in fact, prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriage in Texas and make the state the sole authority for determining its forms of marital union. That bill, which has 78 Republican co-authors – more than half of the House chamber – would make it illegal for any state or local employee to issue a marriage license for a same-sex couple and prohibit the use of state or local funds to recognize or validate a legal marriage between two people of the same sex in another state.