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Equality California sponsors Bill strengthening religious freedoms for clergy

(SACRAMENTO) – Equality California has announced it is sponsoring new legislation that protects clergy from performing any civil marriage that is contrary to the beliefs of his or her faith. The proposed legislation also outlines clear distinctions between civil and religous marriage in state law.

Introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by California Council of Churches IMPACT, the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act would provide legal protections for clergy, enabling them to choose which civil marriages they solemnize.

“We are confident that same-sex couples will one day have the right to marry in California, and when that time comes this law will reassure faith leaders who have opposed marriage equality due to fears they would be compelled to perform marriages conflicting with their beliefs that state law in fact, safeguards their religious freedoms,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “Although the U.S. and California Constitution protect freedom of religion, codifying these principles in state law will diminish any lingering ambiguity and will strengthen these vital freedoms.”

The Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act also protects religious institutions from losing their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform any civil marriage.

“This bill is essential to protecting our freedom of religion guaranteed by the first amendment,” said the Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director, California Council of Churches IMPACT. “It is as imperative that we protect the religious freedom to not solemnize marriage for same-sex couples for clergy and congregations who oppose it on the basis of their conscience or faith tradition as it is to protect the religious freedom of those who do support marriage equality to be able to solemnize all committed unions. California Council of Churches IMPACT represents faith traditions on both sides of this question, and this bill perfectly codifies legal protection for all our faith communities.”

The bill also deepens the distinction in state law between religious and civil marriage, defining the latter as a civil contract that requires a state-issued marriage license.

“Some opponents of marriage for same-sex couples have argued that churches and members of clergy would be required to solemnize marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs,” said Senator Leno. “While we know religious freedom is protected under our Constitution, this legislation eliminates any confusion or doubt under state law, reaffirming that no member of clergy or church will be penalized for refusing to solemnize marriages that violate their religious tenets,” he said. “In the spirit of personal liberty and respect, this bill takes away any ambiguity about religious freedom when it comes to marriage for same-sex couples.”