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Ohio Equality Group Questions Fast-Moving Religious Liberties Bill

Opponents of the Pastor Protection Act are convinced it would make Ohio unwelcoming to members of the LGBT community. (mensatic/morguefile)
Opponents of the Pastor Protection Act are convinced it would make Ohio unwelcoming to members of the LGBT community. (mensatic/morguefile)
February 22, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A fast-moving religious liberties bill in Ohio is spurring concern among some advocates for the state's LGBT residents.

The Pastor Protection Act, House Bill 36, received its third committee hearing Tuesday, just two weeks after it was introduced. The bill says ministers or religious groups cannot be forced to conduct same-sex weddings.

Grant Stancliff, communications director for Equality Ohio, says he understands there are clergy members who truly believe the protection is needed, but he points out their religious freedom is already protected under the First Amendment.

"It's a real fear that they will be compelled to do something that goes against their beliefs," he said. "But they're protected by law, and they don't have to marry anybody that they don't want to, and as an LGBTQ advocacy organization, we don't want to change that at all."

The bill also says religious societies can refuse to provide their services for same-sex marriage ceremonies, even if their facilities are open to the public. Stancliff says "religious societies" is a broad term open to interpretation. He notes many religious entities receive government funding and are obligated to serve everyone equally.

To Stancliff, HB 36 feels like an attack on marriage equality that would make Ohio seem unwelcoming to the LGBT community. He also sees it as a distraction from other equal-rights issues.

"What we are not focusing on is that LGBTQ people aren't in Ohio's existing laws that make discrimination illegal," he added. "Right now, in most parts of Ohio you can be fired just because you're gay; you can be kicked out of your apartment just because you are transgender. You can be kicked out of a restaurant just because you are bisexual."

Supporters of the measure argue it is needed to protect clergy from lawsuits, but opponents have countered that no such lawsuits are currently pending or threatened.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH