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Marriage Equality

Redundant Florida Law Confirms Clergy's Right to Refuse to Marry Same-Sex Couples

Redundant Florida Law Confirms Clergy's Right to Refuse to Marry Same-Sex Couples

Governor Rick Scott
Governor Rick Scott

Florida lawmakers spent hours debating a bill that will give clergy members rights they already had.

Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott, signed a so-called pastor protection bill Thursday, specifying that clergy don't have to marry same-sex couples in Florida -- a protection they already had, The Associated Press reported.

Marriage equality advocates like Carlos Guillermo Smith of Equality Florida called the bill "totally unnecessary" and "motivated by a disapproval of same-sex couples."

According to the wire service, hours were spent debating the bill. "We had to go through this divisive exercise in political posturing that was a giant waste of time," Smith told AP.

Republicans claimed they sought to alleviate fears among religious leaders who were afraid "societal changes could force them to marry gay couples against their religious beliefs," the wire service reported.

Democratic lawmakers "questioned the motivations behind the measure, saying clergy already can choose not to marry any couple, gay or not," according to the AP. Since the bill did not add any new protections, some argued it was meant to make a political statement against marriage equality.

In the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained that marriage equality would not interfere with religious freedom.

"Finally, the First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths," he wrote.

For example, though some sects of the Episcopal Church support same-sex marriage, "clergy members remain free to decline to perform marriages they oppose," The Advocate previously reported.

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