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Proposed California Bill Protects Clergy

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The California senate judiciary committee approved a bill Tuesday that would ensure that clergy members would not be forced to perform any marriage that goes against their beliefs.

The Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, which will now go to the full senate, also would protect religious institutions from losing their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform any civil marriage. Additionally, the legislation would make a clear legal distinction between religious and civil marriage.

While marriage equality was repealed in 2008, the effort to allow same-sex marriages in California is ongoing. Gay senator Mark Leno, who introduced the bill, said religious freedom is often used as an argument against legalizing same-sex marriage.

"While we know religious freedom is protected under our Constitution, this legislation eliminates any confusion or doubt under state law, reaffirming that no member of clergy or church will be penalized for refusing to solemnize marriages that violate their religious tenets," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "In the spirit of personal liberty and respect, this bill takes away any ambiguity about religious freedom when it comes to marriage for same-sex couples."

The 3-2 vote came with opposition by Republican senators Tom Harman and Mimi Walters. Equality California executive director Geoff Kors said the pair voted against the measure "because they would rather keep this issue as a weapon to confuse people, to propagate fear and continue using false arguments to deny equality to same-sex couples."

The bill is sponsored by Equality California and the California Council of Churches IMPACT.

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