The Louisiana House has agreed to legislation that would carve out protections for pastors who refuse to take part in same-sex weddings, after more than an hour of debate.
House Bill 597, which passed the House Tuesday in an 80-18 vote after more than an hour of debate over the merits and potential impact, now heads to the Senate for consideration.
If successful, the measure would allow clergy members to refuse to conduct marriages that they oppose because of their religious beliefs. It’s largely meant to protect pastors from having to perform same-sex marriages, though that type of force doesn’t appear to have been happening in Louisiana since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last year.
Supporters of the bill likened it to laws that have passed in Texas and Florida with little fanfare — rather than controversial bills that have been accused of being discriminatory to gay and transgender people in North Carolina and Mississippi, drawing business and tourism backlashes in those states.
“The bill is a harmless piece of legislation because it’s specifically limited in its scope,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, a Bossier City Republican who is sponsoring the bill. “This legislation has nothing to do with business, industry or tourism, so it hasn’t seen that opposition you’ve seen elsewhere.”
HB597 also doesn’t go as far as one Johnson pushed last year called the “Marriage and Conscience Act,” which sought to prevent the state from penalizing businesses who, based on their religious beliefs, denied services to gay customers.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said Tuesday that he wouldn’t object to the latest bill, dubbed the “Pastor Protection Act” if it makes it to his desk without major changes. But he said he already thinks those protections are offered through the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act from 2010.
“I think it’s unnecessary,” Edwards said of the latest push. “I don’t think it accomplishes anything.”
Edwards last week signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
There currently is no state law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people from discrimination in Louisiana, so Edwards’ order applies exclusively to state services and government contractors.
The order bars state government from discriminating against gay and transgender people in employment practices and in the course of offering state services and benefits. State contractors also will have to agree to anti-discrimination terms beginning July 1, but the order carves out an exemption for contractors who are religious groups.
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