FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2010
CONTACT: Vaishalee Raja, Communications Director
PHONE: 916-284-9187 EMAIL: vaishalee AT eqca DOT org
State Senate Passes Equality California Bill Strengthening Religious Freedoms for Clergy
Introduced by Senator Mark Leno, bill affirms that no clergy member will be forced under law to perform any civil marriage that is against his or her belief system
SACRAMENTO -- The California Senate today passed the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906) in a 23-11 vote. The bill protects clergy from performing any civil marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his or her faith and provides clear distinctions between civil and religious marriage in state law. Introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by Equality California and California Council of Churches IMPACT, the legislation also includes in state law that clergy are able to choose which civil marriages they solemnize.
"We thank legislators for voting today to codify in state law freedom of religion," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "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."
The 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.
"This bill simply affirms that California is a diverse state and that we can all co-exist and make space for each others' beliefs without compromising the beliefs of any religious group or individual," said Senator Leno. "With the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, churches and clergy members who fear their religious views are threatened by marriage equality will have clear and solid protections under state law. In addition, churches that welcome same-sex couples will continue to fully recognize those families within their faith."
To find out more information about EQCA's legislation, visit 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