Burlington, Ky.– A Northern Kentucky state legislator has filed a bill that would prevent the commonwealth from forcing religious figures or organizations from performing same sex marriages, and would protect such organizations and individuals from being sued if they refuse to perform such ceremonies.
State Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, said the bill is necessary because “we are in uncharted territory,” although she acknowledged no one in Kentucky has yet pushed to have such a marriage in a religious setting against that organization’s will.
“I won’t say people have fear but their certainly is heightened concern about what the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling really means,” said Wuchner. “A lot of people have these questions and it’s better to get out in front of this before someone does challenge it and tries to sue a church or whatever, rather than being reactive.”
A similar bill was proposed late last month in the Ohio legislature. That came just four days after the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that same sex marriage should be legal nationally. Both Ohio and Kentucky were party to the lawsuit that eventually led to the court’s 5-4 ruling. The Texas state legislature also passed a similar measure earlier this year.
Gay rights activists have previously said such bills are a waste of time since pastors, churches and other religious organizations/leaders are already protected by the First Amendment.
“My problem with the bill is that it’s going to force taxpayers to foot the bill that legislators will generate time debating a useless piece of legislation,” said Chris Hartman, president of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, a statewide gay rights group. “There is already plenty of protection for religious leaders and ministers to not have to perform any ceremony that they do not want to perform. No one can force a priest, a minister or a rabbi to perform any ceremony they don’t want to.
“This is incredibly useless and wasteful … and geared almost entirely toward the upcoming election and political maneuvering.”
But Wuchner said this case is different and that protections beyond the First Amendment are needed because “this has been codified by the highest court in the land.”
“This isn’t like a pastor refusing to marry someone because they’ve been divorced or married before … now we have a specific ruling or law saying that two men or two women can get married,” Wuchner said. “There is a lot of worry that could be forced upon the churches.”
Wuchner pointed out that her bill would not apply to private businesses or allow anyone to discriminate outside of a religous setting. She said she was confident it would get a hearing in the General Assembly session early next year, even though the Democrats hold the majority in the state House and that Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said immediately after the ruling that he accepted the court’s decision.
However, the proposal could affect and protect some public officials. The bill would modify existing law that allows some judges and county judge-executives to “solemnize” a marriage in a religious sense.
“This would not cover clerks, however, and they would still need to issue marriage licenses,” Wuchner said. (KPA: The Kentucky Enquirer)