BATON ROUGE, La. — A Senate committee in Louisiana has rejected a bill that would protect pastors who decline to officiate same-sex “weddings,” asserting that the move would be discriminatory.
“As sexual liberty is elevated, we don’t want religious liberty to take a back seat and be pushed off the cliff,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, who introduced the legislation in March.
“A legally recognized church or faith under state or federal tax law or regulation, or a religious organization … may not be required by the state to solemnize a marriage, nor provide access to facilities, services, accommodations, goods, or privileges of the church, faith, or religious organization for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of the marriage, if the actions would be contrary to church doctrine, practice or in violation of the religious beliefs and principles of the clergy, church, or religious organization,” H.B. 597 reads.
The bill only relates to the solemnization and celebration of marital unions, and does not relate to any other aspect.
“Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, nothing contained in this part shall be construed or applied in derogation of Louisiana’s tradition of tolerance of all people,” it states.
The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau expressed opposition to the measure, opining that if the bill were passed into law it could affect tourism in Louisiana.
“The only way to put it is, this is a human and civil rights issue as well as a major economic issue,” said chief executive Stephen Perry, according to the Times-Picayune. “It’s about the brand of Louisiana as a tolerant, open place. In our business, which is a multi-billion-dollar perception business, we’re concerned about the potential negative impacts…”
He had originally worked with Johnson to tweak the language of the bill, but ultimately decided to oppose the proposal. Johnson says he was not informed that Perry intended to object to H.B. 597 during Tuesday’s hearing.
“We worked with Mike in the beginning and we felt that it would help cure some of the perception issues. As it turns out, it did not,” Perry said. “As things have become hypersensitive, and particularly in the national business environment, we realized the core part of the bill did … really did absolutely nothing. So we were very concerned about the brand of Louisiana.”
The two Democrats who voted against the bill also asserted that it would allow churches to decline to marry interracial couples. Johnson said that concern was unfounded.
“The whole purpose of the bill was to prevent the state from taking any adverse action against a member of the clergy, church or religious organization merely for abiding by their sincerely held religious beliefs,” he stated. “I’m not aware of any religious tradition in this state that is opposed to interracial marriage. I certainly don’t know any clergy who would refuse to do that.”
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, opined that the legislation is unnecessary.
“You have the Religious Freedom Act, which already protects this broadly,” he stated. “We’ve got a homeowner afraid of a robber. You’ve armed him with a knife and a gun, and now we’re going to give him a bazooka.”
But Johnson remarked that he believes homosexual advocacy groups will eventually seek to force clergy to officiate at same-sex ceremonies, finding declination to be an act of discrimination.
“They’ll be coming after ya’ll; it’s just a matter of time,” he warned after the bill was voted down 3-2.