New Arizona Bill Protects Clergy, Judges From Gay Weddings Lawsuits

Image: New Arizona Bill Protects Clergy, Judges From Gay Weddings Lawsuits State Reps. Steve Yarbrough, left, and Steve Montenegro talk on the house floor at the Arizona State Capitol.

Friday, 28 Feb 2014 08:33 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The battle over religious freedom has taken a new twist in Arizona with a state representative introducing a controversial bill allowing clergy and judges to refuse to perform same-sex weddings without legal ramifications.

Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation on Thursday that would have allowed business owners the right to reject service to gays and lesbians on the grounds of religious conviction.

Rep. Steve Montenegro has now put forward legislation that would prevent government from requiring ordained clergy and judges to "solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with [their] sincerely held religious beliefs," according to the Arizona Republic.

House Bill 2481 follows the controversy surrounding Senate Bill 1062, which would have offered a legal defense for businesses facing discrimination lawsuits for turning down service to gays because of their "sincerely held religious belief."

Gay rights activists called the bill discriminatory and unconstitutional while small businesses and large corporations, along with Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, urged Brewer to veto it for fear of a backlash from potential visitors to Arizona.

The National Football League, which plans to hold the Super Bowl in Arizona next year, denounced the legislation, along with Major League Baseball.

Montenegro said he hopes the outcry over the so-called "anti-gay" bill would not impede the passage of his legislation.

"The intent of my bill is to directly protect clergy, churches, man or woman of the cloth, to protect them from doing marriage ceremonies that go against their faith," Montenegro told the Arizona Republic.

But Republicans who had voted for SB 1062 said they were wary of getting behind the new bill, which is scheduled for a full debate in the state's House of Representatives.

Republican state Sen. John McComish has declared that he would not vote for a bill similar to the last religious freedom bill. "If there was a 1062-esque vote, no — not for me, anyway," he said. "Where we missed the boat was not understanding the perception of the bill. We looked at it clinically."

Republican state Sen. Adam Driggs, who voted for SB 1062 but later took back his support, said, "I'm not going to do anything that would reinvigorate the turmoil. There's no reason to go there."

Tracey Stewart, assistant regional director for the Anti- Defamation League, said that although clergymen are already protected from lawsuits for refusing to perform gay weddings, judges and civil servants are not exempt from facing such suits.

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