By Zach Behrens
As the gay marriage debate continues in the courts and within communities, a newly introduced bill by State Senator Mark Leno may win over church leaders who are opposed to same-sex unions. The Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, SB 906, will affirm that no clergy member will be forced under law to perform any civil marriage that is against his or her belief system. “While we know religious freedom is protected under our Constitution, this legislation eliminates any confusion or doubt under state law, reaffirming that no member of clergy or church will be penalized for refusing to solemnize marriages that violate their religious tenets,” Leno said.
Gay marriage advocates at Equality California agree and are sponsoring the proposal. “We are confident that same-sex couples will one day have the right to marry in California, and when that time comes this law will reassure faith leaders who have opposed marriage equality due to fears they would be compelled to perform marriages conflicting with their beliefs that state law, in fact, safeguards their religious freedoms,” said Geoff Kors, the group's Executive Director.
Also chiming is the California Council of Churches. “This bill is essential to protecting our freedom of religion guaranteed by the first amendment,” said the Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director. “It is as imperative that we protect the religious freedom to not solemnize marriage for same-sex couples for clergy and congregations who oppose it on the basis of their conscience or faith tradition as it is to protect the religious freedom of those who do support marriage equality to be able to solemnize all committed unions."