Opinion Divided Over Pastor Protection Act

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With the legalization of same-sex marriage, some have called for the protection of religious leaders’ right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

The Pastor Protection Act (HB 43), which advanced to the Florida House Judiciary Committee on Oct. 7, seeks to make that protection part of state law.

 More than 24,000 people have signed a petition on change.org to support the Pastor Protection Act in Florida.

Yet some don’t believe the law is needed.

“I do not believe for one minute that HB 43 is a protection,” said Shelly Wilson, senior minister at United Church of Gainesville. “This is a thinly disguised attempt to control and to sow fear and division between LGBTQ families and religious practitioners and religious communities of all kinds.”

Protection for religious freedom is provided by the U.S. Constitution, so this extra layer of protection for clergy and religious institutions is unnecessary, Wilson said.

But Chris Parker, creator of the online petition, believes it is necessary.

People have car insurance, floor insurance, and tornado insurance that they may never use, but they act like an extra layer of protection, Parker said. The Pastor Protection Act is meant to do the same, just in case something happens.

In his three years on staff, Michael Taylor, minister at Westside Baptist Church, said he has never had to deny a marriage ceremony. And he has never had a gay couple insist that he marry them, he said.

When couples approach him wanting to get married, he points them to God’s word, Taylor said, and it’s up to the couple to decide whether they want to proceed in that direction.

“I guess it [Pastor Protection Act] is nice but, ultimately, I’m going to let Jesus make that call as far as how he protects me,” he said.

Although faith leaders would be protected under the Pastor Protection Act, bakers and florists who refuse to provide services based on their religious beliefs would not.

The difference lies in the kind of service being provided, said Danaya Wright, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, who specializes in constitutional law.

Bakers or florists are providing a civil service, but performing a marriage ceremony is a religious service and is protected by the Constitution, she said.

Shelly Wilson, senior minister at United Church of Gainesville, said she believes there are bigger issues that need to be addressed.

She said LGBTQ individuals face real discrimination in the realms of education, jobs, public access, health care and housing.

“In my opinion, this bill distracts lawmakers from really important work that they should be involved in,” Wilson said.

About Patricia Potestades

Patricia is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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