PHOENIX — A legislator in Arizona has introduced a bill that would protect churches in the state from being forced to perform same-sex ‘weddings.’
Representative Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park), Associate Pastor and Youth Pastor at Surprise Apostolic Assembly, recently announced the First Freedom Act to ensure that pastors retain their First Amendment rights when it comes to the institution of marriage. The Act would make it illegal to “require a minister to solemnize a marriage inconsistent with a minister’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“The United States Supreme Court has ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex marriages to be performed in some states,” he wrote in a news release announcing the proposed bill. “Arizona’s Constitution is clear on this subject, but the willingness of federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to rewrite state Constitutions threatens our most precious freedoms, specifically those found in the First Amendment.”
While Montenegro notes that there is no imminent threat to churches, he states that he wants to establish safeguards in advance should any issues arise.
“This is something that we’re doing preemptively,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I believe that we need to make sure that we are protecting the rights of citizens, especially when it comes to pastors, matters of faith, matters of church and matters of what we believe.”
“There are a number of churches and ministers who have publicly campaigned for same-sex marriage and who have indicated a willingness to perform them,” Montenegro said. “There is no need to force churches and their officials to participate and Arizona’s First Freedom Act will ensure that those on the radical left will not be able to use same-sex marriage as a weapon against those churches whose teachings and beliefs are irreconcilably at odds with it.”
As previously reported, a similar bill has been proposed in Utah by Representative Jacob Anderegg (R-Lehi) in light of increasing court rulings that interpret the equal protection clause of 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as trumping the 10th Amendment, which protects states’ rights.
“No religious organization, association, or society, and no individual acting in a role connected with a religious organization, association, or society, may be required or compelled to solemnize, officiate in, or recognize a marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of their right of conscience or their free exercise of religion,” the proposed amendment states.
Both Utah and Arizona are facing lawsuits challenging the states’ constitutional amendments regarding the institution of marriage. Utah officials are currently appealing to the 10th Circuit following a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, who said that the state’s current laws “deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry.”
Eight homosexuals in Arizona filed a class action lawsuit earlier this month asserting that state laws violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Arizona legislature passed a law in 1996 defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, and in 2008, voters approved a constitutional amendment 56 to 44 percent that reiterated the state’s stance on marriage.