FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2010
CONTACT: Vaishalee Raja, Communications Director
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Equality California Sponsors Bill Strengthening Religious Freedoms for Clergy
New bill, introduced by Senator Mark Leno, affirms that no clergy member will be forced under law to perform any civil marriage that is against his or her belief system
SACRAMENTO – Equality California announced it is sponsoring new legislation that protects clergy from performing any civil marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his or her faith and that provides clear distinctions between civil and religious marriage in state law. The Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, SB 906, introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by California Council of Churches IMPACT, includes in state law that clergy are able to choose which civil marriages they solemnize.
“We are confident that same-sex couples will one day have the right to marry in California, and when that time comes this law will reassure faith leaders who have opposed marriage equality due to fears they would be compelled to perform marriages conflicting with their beliefs that state law, in fact, safeguards their religious freedoms,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “Although the U.S. and California Constitution protect freedom of religion, codifying these principles in state law will diminish any lingering ambiguity and will strengthen these vital freedoms.”
Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act also protects religious institutions from losing their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform any civil marriage.
“This bill is essential to protecting our freedom of religion guaranteed by the first amendment,” said the Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director, California Council of Churches IMPACT. “It is as imperative that we protect the religious freedom to not solemnize marriage for same-sex couples for clergy and congregations who oppose it on the basis of their conscience or faith tradition as it is to protect the religious freedom of those who do support marriage equality to be able to solemnize all committed unions. California Council of Churches IMPACT represents faith traditions on both sides of this question, and this bill perfectly codifies legal protection for all our faith communities.”
In addition, the bill deepens the distinction in state law between religious and civil marriage, defining the latter as a civil contract that requires a state-issued marriage license.
“Some opponents of marriage for same-sex couples have argued that churches and members of clergy would be required to solemnize marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs,” said Senator Leno. “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 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.”
To find out more information about EQCA's legislation, visit http://www.eqca.org/legislation.
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender-rights advocacy organization in California. Over the past decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation. Equality California has passed over 60 pieces of legislation and continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. www.eqca.org
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