Ohio State House Passes Bill To Protect Pastors Who Refuse To Wed Same-Sex Couples.

Ohio State House this week passed the “Pastor Protection Act,” a bill some Churches say advances religious freedom, even though it came with some criticism.

Known as House Bill 36, the “Ohio Pastor Protection Act,” protects ministers from penalty if they refuse to perform a marriage that goes against their religious beliefs.

The bill also states that no “religious society” is required to allow such a marriage to be held on its property.

The goal, according to its sponsor, Rep. Nino Vitale, is to prevent “tension” and lawsuits regarding religious entities and same-sex marriage. The Urbana Republican said the bill is “not a sword, but a shield” meant to protect everyone’s beliefs.

The bill has been in the making since 2015 after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

While religious freedom for pastors is already protected in the U.S. and state constitutions, Vitale said the bill is necessary due to the current “tension” that exists between people of different belief systems.

“The state of Ohio must decide if it’s going to relieve this tension, which has been done in 20 other states and growing, or are we going to allow groups to sue each other and use the heavy hand of the court?” Vitale said.

Vitale noted that the main point of the Pastor Protection Act is “to clarify that refusing to perform or host a marriage is simply a matter of religious freedom”.

LGBT rights group, Equality Ohio, has however said it would continue to fight the bill because property and services rented to the public should be available to people regardless of race, sex, religion and other protected characteristics.

In a press statement, Alana Jochum, the executive director of Equality Ohio said, “The problem with the bill is not that clergy can choose not to marry someone if it goes against their faith. They currently have––and should have––that right. “It is that the bill goes further, and allows for undefined ‘religious societies’ to discriminate against couples seeking to marry with regard to public accommodations.”

“This means that couples ––including interfaith couples or even interracial couples ––could experience discrimination in accessing a Knights of Columbus hall for a wedding reception, for example”, Alana said.

The bill, which the House passed 61-29, will now head to the Senate for consideration.

The bill in Ohio is coming shortly after the recent landmark ruling by the U.S. supreme court in favor of a baker who refused services to a same-sex couple because of his religious objection.

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