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Pastor Protection Act Gets House's Blessing

white church in front of blue sky
John Spooner via Flickr

A measure aimed at protecting Florida's churches and clergy from lawsuits if they refuse to participate in marriage ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs has passed in the House.
The so called Pastor Protection Act has received pushback from lawmakers like Rep. Ed Narain (D-Tampa) who calls the measure a “mean spirited jab at the LGBT community.”

And Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-Westpark) says the measure stands to negatively impact more than just the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT community.

“Where is the line drawn when we talk about discrimination? Black and white couple getting married, can they be discriminated against? A divorced person who is remarrying, can they be discriminated against? Where is the line drawn with that,” Jones asks.

And Rep. Kionne McGhee echoes that concern, saying the Pastor Protection Act could more aptly be called the Civil Rights Killer. He says there’s no reason for the measure.

“Because the Supreme Court has already said that they don’t have to marry against their religious belief. So if the Supreme Court has already said it, which I agree, then why are we here?” McGhee asks.

But lawmakers like Rep. John Wood  (R-Winter Haven) says there’s a clear need for the measure. He says that need stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same sex marriage across the country.

“Now that was a big deal—shocked a lot of people in this country. And we just want to make sure with this bill that nobody’s religious beliefs are going to be violated for refusing to officiate a civil ceremony,” Wood says.

Meanwhile Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) says he does see discrimination happening—discrimination against traditional families.

“There is a war, a battle, an assault going on against the traditional family. And there’s no one member affected. Every one of you are affected. The foundation of our society that was built on Judeo Christian principles is affected,” Baxley says.

The measure passed with an amendment that was supported by the LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida. Carlos Gillermo Smith says Equality Florida continues to have serious concerns about the bill but has dropped its opposition with the addition of the amendment that includes more explanation about what entities will be covered by the measure’s protections.

“And the reason we supported it is because it removed vague and over broad language that was originally in the bill and replace it with a very clear subset of entities that were already covered by law."

The measure passed 82 to 37, largely along party lines. It heads next to the Senate where a similar bill was poised for a floor hearing Wednesday. But lawmakers temporarily postponed the measure.