The Florida House voted 82-37 to approve a bill that allows members of the clergy to refuse to perform gay marriages.
The passage came after more than an hour of passionate debate. Opponents questioned why the bill (HB 43) was needed, with some calling it an insult to the state’s gay community.
“This bill is about discriminating in the name of religion, sadly,” said Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat and the only openly gay member of the Florida House. “It is an insult to the gay community.”
Rep. Scott Plakon, the Longwood Republican sponsoring the measure, said the measure offers protections to “pastors … that have concerns” about gay marriage. The proposal protects clergy, churches and religious organizations and their employees from civil action for refusing to perform gay marriages.
“This is an important issue,” said Rep. John Wood, a Winter Haven Republican. “We just want to make sure with this bill that no one’s religious beliefs are going to be violated by refusing to officiate at a civil ceremony. We respect the Supreme Court, but we also respect our citizens’ rights to exercise (their First Amendment rights). This is in the tradition of our Legislature.”
Plakon had said he began drafting the bill before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. He has said much of the bill comes from a similar Texas law.
Many ministers from older, mainline religious organizations opposed the bill; while smaller evangelical groups came out in support of it.
On Wednesday, many House Republicans opposed the measure. Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, said she was outraged her colleagues were pushing the measure.
“I want to talk to you about my conviction, my conviction as a mother, my conviction as a mother of a gay woman,” said Cruz. “I have to speak up to defend my daughter and defend other gay men and women who worry about discrimination around every corner. Consider what you’re doing when you press that button, consider the love of a mother.”
Plakon said he worked with officials from Equality Florida to clarify who is covered by the bill. While Equality Florida said it does not support the overall measure, it has withdrawn its opposition and is taking a neutral position.
A similar bill is awaiting a hearing in the full Senate.