San Francisco state Sen. Mark Leno supports gay marriage
— but he doesn’t think clergy should have to perform the ceremonies.
Leno, who is gay, is introducing legislation that says
no religious leader would be forced to perform a marriage
that goes against their own beliefs or that of their
faith. The bill would also re-emphasize the tax-exempt status of churches, and states that they would
not lose this status by refusing to perform same-sex marriages.
Leno, a Democrat, contends the bill would not actually
change the law because the First Amendment already
offers these protections.
Instead, Leno said, it is a clarification aimed right
at the ongoing debate over Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that ended California’s brief experiment with same sex marriage. The measure
won by five points after a campaign in which proponents sought
to mislead voters, Leno contends.
"If you heard any number of the arguments of the proponents
of Prop. 8, you would have thought there were no First Amendment
right to freedom of religion," Leno said. He added
at the bill would be an attempt "to put to an end some
of the nonsensical statements made in support of Prop.
Leno’s legislation is sponsored by the California Council
of Churches, IMPACT a nd Equality California, which
was the main group opposing Prop. 8.
That trial, now going on in federal court in San Francisco,
largely centers on the issue of whether gays and lesbians
constitute a historically oppressed group. The suit,
brought by a legal team united conservative attorney
Ted Olsen and liberal counterpart David Boies — who famously faced off in Bush v. Gore in 2000 — has sought to highlight some of the more hysterical
rhetoric about the "gay lifestyle" used by people connected
to the campaign.
"We strong support religious freedom and the rights
of clergy to only solemnize weddings they want to solemnize,"
Kors said. The bill would not apply to government employees
who perform weddings, who would have to treat gay and
straight couples the same. It would also protect the
rights of churches to reserve church facilities for
their own members.
However, if a church is offered for rent to the general
public, the law would require it be offered to gay
couples if gay marriage became the law again in California.
"As we know from the Yes on 8 Campaign and what we’re seeing in the federal trial, many people and a lot
of the right-wing groups we’re up against have lied to Californians about who has
to marry people and how clergy might be arrested and
churches might lose their tax-exempt status," said Geoff Kors, executive director
of Equality California.