Governor Scott approves 'Pastor Protection' Bill

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a controversial bill aimed at protecting clergy members from performing same-sex marriages against their religious beliefs.

Known as the "Pastor Protection Act," the measure (HB 43), filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, will prevent churches, pastors and church employees from facing lawsuits for discrimination if they refuse to perform gay and lesbian weddings. Its passage follows a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that found same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

Plakon and Senate sponsor Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said the verdict had shaken conservative Christians. "The entire marriage world turned upside down," Bean said last week as the Senate debated the measure.

Opponents said the First Amendment already protects pastors who refuse to perform same-sex weddings and challenged supporters to show that any religious organizations have been punished for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples.

But supporters of the measure maintained that it was too soon for such lawsuits to have surfaced because the Supreme Court ruling has been in effect less than a year. Opponents also said the bill could open the door for pastors to refuse to marry interracial couples or divorced people.

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