Virginia House of Delegates member, Chris Head, has introduced House Bill 19 — legislation that would serve as a faith-based protection for clergy or other individuals authorized to celebrate the rites of matrimony in the Commonwealth. The bill would protect clergy from having to violate their religious beliefs in the post same-sex marriage landscape.
Even though it doesn’t directly mention same-sex marriage, Del. Head (R-Botetourt County) said it was drafted with that as a consideration in the future. Head stated: “The purpose of this bill is simply to absolutely clarify that pastors of churches shouldn’t be compelled to perform a ceremony that violates the tenets of their religion; nothing more.”
According to the Roanoke News, Head described the bill as a, “…preventive step aimed at heading off disputes before they start.” Head said: “I don’t think it will be very controversial, quite honestly.” He added: “Because it’s not about trying to remove rights from anybody; it’s about trying to protect rights [for pastors].”
Victoria Cobb, president of theFamily Foundation of Virginia, sees the legislation as a positive step. She said: “I think this bill simply provides some distance and separation between the clergy and the state to ensure that the government can’t compel a member of the clergy, regardless of their faith perspective, to violate their deeply held beliefs about marriage.” She went on to say that… “Some have voiced concerns that the current process makes them feel kind of like agents of the state, and they’re concerned about where that goes.”
Deflecting public concerns about religious liberty the executive director of Equality Virginia, James Parrish said he wasn’t sure how the bill changes anything on same sex marriage and that he feels religious protections for clergy are not necessary. In reference to Del. Head’s bill he said: “But if that was his intent, this bill is unnecessary.”
He referred to the 1st amendment which is what anti-discrimination laws serve to nullify.
…because our separation of church and state and our freedom of religion already allow churches to decide who they marry and who they don’t marry.“When it comes to marriage, I think everybody has been clear that each faith is allowed to decide.
Cobb did confirm that Family Foundation is working with lawmakers on other protections but she did not elaborate. Ideally, Head’s bill may be amended to include laypeople of faith who officiate over civil marriage. It is still unclear exactly what, if any, obligation they have now or in the future to perform same-sex marriages. We can expect other bills addressing the conflicts surrounding religious liberty and same-sex marriage.