A bill that sponsors say ensures religious freedom when it comes to marriage ceremonies is moving through the Ohio Legislature. However opponents are urgently trying to stop the so-called “Pastor Protection Act,” saying it overreaches and creates more opportunities to discriminate.
The bill, HB36, says faith leaders do not have to perform a marriage ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs. But it also says properties owned by religious groups, such as banquet halls, don’t have to host a marriage ceremony they oppose.
Equality Ohio’s Alana Jochum says the Constitution already protects religious leaders but — regarding public accommodations — could the bill overrule existing anti-discrimination laws for classes like age, race, sex and military status.
"Although it is clear from testimony that the bill was drafted with the intention of denying LGBTQ people access to certain public places, it does not change that such access can already be denied to them. Rather it only expands the discrimination that can be permitted against everyone else currently protected,” says Jochum.
No lawsuits of this kind have been filed, but supporters of the bill say they want to strengthen existing protections in the event of any future litigation.
“My reason for writing this bill is to stop a litigation war in Ohio. This language may sound a bit dramatic, but we live in an increasingly secular and pluralistic society where there are many belief systems,” says Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana), who sponsors the bill. “One question everyone should ask is: don’t we have religious freedom in the First Amendment and in our Ohio Constitution? Unfortunately, the answer is maybe.”
The bill, which passed the Ohio House earlier this year, could possibly go to the Senate floor before the end of session. Sen. Kevin Bacon (R-Westerville), who chairs the Senate Judiciary committee, said he planned to hold a vote on the legislation next week.