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Church Protection Bill May Boost Equality Efforts

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Seeking to ease the fears of some churchgoers, California state senator Mark Leno is introducing legislation to make it optional for religious leaders to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

The bill would assure that clergy members would not have to perform marriages that go against their beliefs, and that no church would risk losing its tax-exempt status by refusing to host a ceremony. Churches that choose to offer their facilities to the general public, however, would have to make them available to gay couples as well.

Capitol Weekly
reports that Leno, who is gay, has pointed out this bill will not actually change any law, as religious organizations are already protected by the First Amendment. Leno explains that "if you heard any number of the arguments of the proponents of Prop. 8 [California's anti-gay marriage measure], you would have thought that there were no First Amendment right to freedom of religion." Leno and his supporters are hoping the bill will "put to an end some of the nonsensical statements made in support of Prop. 8."

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, added that "although the U.S. and California constitution protect freedom of religion, codifying these principles in state law will diminish and lingering ambiguity and will strengthen these vital freedoms."

SB 906, the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, is also sponsored by the California Council of Churches.

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