If California Gets Marriage Again, Here’s How Lawmakers Will Make Sure Priests Aren’t Targeted for Denying Gay Couples

Because they need more convincing that gay marriage will not impact what a church does, California lawmakers, fronted by gay marriage proponent Sen. Mark Leno, are proposing a law that would specifically exempt clergy from any legal ramifications if they refuse to officiate a gay wedding. That is, under the law: John and Bill cannot go sue Pastor Dan if he refuses to get them hitched. Of course, the relevance of this law hinges on a little thing known as Prop 8, and whether it’s overturned in federal court.

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  • James UK

    I can’t see any real problem with allowing clergy to refuse marriage in church to LGBT if their religious denomination is against it.

    In the UK, marriage is only for straights. Gays get civil unions. Marriage is essentially a civil contract, but if a straight couple want to get married in church, they don’t have to have a separate civil marriage ceremony as they might in some European countries. Certain demoninations are allowed to have their marriage ceremonies count as civil marriage too and so after the religious service, the couple goes to sign the civil register, which is usually set up in the vestry or sometimes in the knave of the church. The bride and groom sign the register and that’s that. The marriage is legally recognised and a marriage certificate issued.

    If absolute separation of church and state is required, fair enough. But I can’t see the harm in allowing the clergy to fill in and oversee the forms and send them in to the civil authorities with the fee after the religious ceremony has been completed. The state gets the forms and the fee.

    If necessary, assuming LGBTs want to marry at a venue other than the town hall, what’s wrong with allowing state officials to perform the ceremony or if that’s too socialist a concept, license private individuals to perform the civil marraige in the same way real estate agents are licensed. In the UK, the state official (from the Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths) performs all town hall type weddings and civil unions (whether actually at the registry office or at a licensed venue such as a hotel) and as they are state officials, cannot refuse on religious or other grounds to perform civil unions. One registrar did, and she was promptly dismissed. The courts have recently upheld the right of the state to sack her on the ground that as a state official employed to undertake civil marraiges and civil unions she was required to do so and refusal to comply was a legitimate ground to dismiss her.

    The California Supreme Court decision in the marriage cases was to require the state of California to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples and to require the usual state officials to perform the civil marriage ceremony.

    Religious marriage ceremonies are a matter for the churches. Straight couples are no less married because they choose not to marry in church. The suggestion that clergy can be or ought to be able to be sued for refusing religious marriage to LGBTs if civil SSM is allowed is absurd. Of course if church authorities want to be absolutely sure of freedom from state interference on the grounds they say that they fear, namely being required to perform SSM, there is a solution. Religious ceremonies can be just that, religious. The churches can require couples to produce a civil marriage certificate before conducting the religious service. The religious marriage ceremony is of no legal effect. A bit like a baptism, which is not required to legally name a child.

  • Cam

    Churches and clergy are already protected. Making a big deal about this is the far rights way to try to scare people into thinking that the law will force religeons into this.

  • Tarcash

    The original ruling from the California Supreme Court was that clergy and religious institutions were already free. This is just more bullshit placation.

  • B

    No. 2 · Cam: “Churches and clergy are already protected. Making a big deal about this is the far rights way to try to scare people into thinking that the law will force religeons into this.”

    Mark Leno is probably introducing this legislation for political reasons – the wingnuts lied during the Prop 8 campaign by claiming that churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies even though the California Supreme Court had explicitly stated that this could not happen.

    It’s simply easier to point to a law than to refer to a sentence buried in a CA Supreme Court decision a couple of hundred pages long.

  • Kevin_BGFH

    @Cam: Yes, they are already protected, and the California Supreme Court has already been very explicit about that, but hopefully this bill will help neutralize that argument. Of course, some people who oppose same sex marriage are opposing this bill saying it doesn’t go far enough. They want this to include a conscientious objection clause for everyone — meaning city clerks could refuse to issue a marriage license if they said it violated their religious beliefs. I disagree. Government employees should be required to uphold the law regardless of their religious beliefs. This bill allows religious officials to refuse to perform any marriage for any religious reason, which is fine. (Churches have always had their own standards anyway.) Allowing government officials to have a conscientious objection would open the floodgates to officials refusing to issue a licence to a marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic, for example. And it imposes an undue hardship on couples in conservative areas where concievably ALL of the local clerks have the same bias.

    But allowing religious figures to refuse to perform a religious ceremony? Sure, that was always the law anyway.

  • Victor

    If we lobby these people they will change their minds. Just call them or email them. Once they hear from us they will stop this behavior.

    Lobbying is how we win. We all need to be doing it, all the time. The more you call or the more you email – the sooner we win.

  • Joe K

    Churches always had this option. Again CA is going nuts, legislating an issue that is not an issue. Why don’t they do some real work, oh, like fixing their budget issues?

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