PIERRE, S.D. — Lawmakers in South Dakota have defeated a bill that sought to protect pastors from performing same-sex “weddings,” as the bill failed approval by a Senate committee by a single vote.
Senate Bill 66 was deemed to be unnecessary by opponents of the legislation, as they asserted that the state constitution already protects residents from being forced to violate their conscience.
“No member of the clergy nor lay official of any church or religion may be required to solemnize any marriage, provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, or treat any marriage as valid for any purpose if such action would cause any such entity or individual to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs,” it read.
The legislation also protected pastors from lawsuits or any other type of retribution for refusing to officiate homosexual ceremonies against their conscience.
According to reports, the main sponsor the of the bill, Senator Ernie Otten (R-Tea) had introduced the legislation out of fear of what could occur if the courts overturn the state’s same-sex “marriage” ban.
“This bill does not force or impose an agenda on anyone,” he told the Associated Press. “What the bill does, however, is protect South Dakota from anyone trying to impose his or her view on people by using legal or financial threats.”
Sen. Steve Hickey (R-Souix Falls), a pastor, agreed that the bill was vital to protect the church from the state.
“We’re asking for a little more firewall to keep whatever the state approves out there from affecting what we’re doing because of deeply held religious convictions,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “[T]he state wants to approve whatever it wants to approve; that’s fine. But we have religious right of conscience. And so … this bill says the state stops at our church.”
But Karl Kroger, a United Methodist minister in Piedmont said that churches had nothing to fear surrounding the matter.
“I am here to give you a message that was predominately given to people by the angels, and that is do not be afraid. You all don’t have to be afraid of this,” he said. “It’s going to be okay. We’re not being persecuted. We have freedom of religion. As a pastor, I will not be forced to violate my conscience and perform a same sex wedding.”
The committee ultimately struck down the legislation 4-3, with the majority agreeing that the proposal was unnecessary.
As previously reported, lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have introduced similar bills due to the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling last year surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“The United States Supreme Court has ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex marriages to be performed in some states,” Rep. Steve Montenegro of Arizona (R-Litchfield Park), Associate Pastor and Youth Pastor at Surprise Apostolic Assembly, wrote in a news release announcing the First Freedom Act. “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.”
Sen. Otten said that he may pull a similar bill protecting the rights of religious business owners following the failure of the clergy bill.