Ohio House votes to prohibit forcing churches to perform gay weddings

Opponents say the bill is not necessary since churches already have that right, they say.

Religious conservatives won passage in the Ohio House of a bill to make it explicit: clergy do not have to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies if they don’t want to do so.

The House on Wednesday voted 59-29 in favor of a bill sponsored by state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana.

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Equality Ohio, a gay rights group, said the bill is unnecessary because clergy’s right to refuse is already embedded in the constitution.

The problem is that the bill goes further, allowing ‘religious societies’ to refuse wedding-related services to couples of all sorts — gay, interracial, interfaith, according to Equality Ohio Director Alan Jochum. “Property and services rented to the public at large must be available to all, regardless of race, sex, religion and other protected characteristics.”

State Rep. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights, said it would give “undefined” religious societies to turn away couples because of their sexual orientation.

The vote on House Bill 36 comes near the three year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same sex marriage across the nation.

Vitale said the bill seeks to relieve the tension between the marriage decision and religious freedoms. “This bill is not only timely, it’s much needed,” he said.

Related: Conservatives push religious freedom bill in Ohio

More than 70 pastors and church affiliated groups testified in favor of the bill, Vitale said.

In written testimony, Pastor Brian D. Kershaw of East Dayton Baptist Church said he believes the ‘Ohio Pastor Protection Act’ is needed to “explicitly protect the convictional voices of pastors.”

Ohio State University law professor Marc Spindelman said in written testimony that HB36’s pastor protections are unconstitutional. Instead, it’s up to the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that the federal Constitution recognizes both same sex marriage rights and the clergy’s right to refuse to take part in them.

Related: LGBTQ bill picks up support in Ohio

Ohio is a battleground for legislation over civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ohioans as well as bills seeking to protect religious and parent rights.

For example, House Bill 160, which was introduced in March 2017 and has support from business groups, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment.

House Bill 658 would prohibit a court from using a parent’s refusal to let a child undergo gender-based treatment for a basis for determining child custody.

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Local lawmakers voting in favor of the bill include Republicans: Niraj Antani, John Becker, Tom Brinkman, Jim Butler, Mike Henne, Steve Huffman, Candice Keller, Kyle Koehler, George Lang, Scott Lipps, Rick Perales, Wes Retherford, Vitale and Paul Zeltwanger. Local lawmakers opposing the bill were Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, and Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton.

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