Leno bill: Clergy don’t have to perform gay-marriage ceremonies

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. 8.”

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.

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