This really is a huge waste of time.
For some gay rights advocates, a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples would be acceptable if it just included four more words.
As the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony Monday morning on Senate Bill 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, asked for the legislation to include language making it clear that the bill only applies to marriage ceremonies. Smith wanted to ensure that the legislation would not prohibit the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses by officials in a secular context.
But Estes told committee that he did not intend to accept that amendment after pastors testified against the bill for several hours.
Smith requested that language in the bill saying that “a clergy or minister may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services” be changed to “a clergy or minister acting in that capacity may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services.”
“We are fully supportive of religious liberties,” Smith told the committee in the morning.
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the committee’s chairwoman, said she hoped a consensus would be reached.
The legislation faced heat from Democrats at Monday’s committee hearing.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, criticized the bill because it did not define “solemnize” or “religious organization.” Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked if clergy could use the legislation to refuse to marry interracial couples.
“If it’s a discriminatory act, then I don’t think they should be able to hide behind the First Amendment or hide behind their faith,” Ellis said.
See here for the background. Honestly, given some of the things the Senate could be debating, I don’t mind them wasting a few hours on this, but I just don’t see what this bill will accomplish that the First Amendment doesn’t already provide. There was some testimony in favor of the bill from the crowd that thinks same sex marriage is a monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot to sap and impurify all of their precious bodily fluids, but despite the support of the Estes bill by liberal groups if the language gets tweaked and of the companion House bill that has already been modified, there was some opposition from both sides as well.
But socially conservative lawyers for the Plano-based Liberty Institute and Austin-based Texas Values Action opposed Huffman’s push to include the bill opponents’ language. They and an aide to Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke of the issue raised by Scalia, about how ministers officiating at a wedding act in dual capacities. They represent a church but also use state power to seal a marriage. That could lead to legal complexities, they warned.
Even if Estes accepted the change, which appeared unlikely, at least one ecumenical group said it would remain opposed to his bill.
Texas Impact, a progressive coalition of Christian churches and Jewish entities, said it could inspire lawsuits by ministers and employees in certain Protestant denominations with a hierarchical structure over their disagreements with the denomination’s church laws.
“We do not want ministers sued, we do not want churches sued,” said Joshua Houston, Texas Impact’s general counsel. “But we also do not want ministers able to sue denominations when their sincerely held religious beliefs are in conflict. Attorneys representing the Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist churches tell us that the way the bill is written will increase those lawsuits.”
Clearly, the simplest thing to do is to leave well enough alone. In the end the bill was voted out of committee without the modification that Equality texas and the ACLU were asking for, because we always have to do things the hard way. Unfair Park has more.