Florida Senate to take up Pastor Protection bill

State lawmakers will focus on same sex marriage Tuesday in Tallahassee.  The Florida Senate will vote on a bill to support pastors who refuse to perform same sex marriages.  

Supporters of the Pastor Protection Act say it will protect pastors against future lawsuits from same sex marriage advocates.  Opponents say pastors already have those protections through the First Amendment.

Most people call Senate Bill 110 the Pastor Protection Act.  It's moved through three committees, and Tuesday it faces a major vote on the Senate floor in Tallahassee.   Supporters say the bill would shield pastors against lawsuits if they refuse to marry a same sex couple for religious reasons.   State Representative Bob Cortes is sponsoring the house version of the bill.  "We are making sure that we codify in law that they will be protected if they refuse to marry anyone."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that same sex couples have a constitutional right to get married.  Some same sex opponents fear a wave of lawsuits that could force clergy to perform the ceremonies.  Michael Farmer is with Equality Florida. The group believes the First Amendment already protects pastors.   Farmer says, "If they have a constitutional protection, why do they need this piece of legislation, and we think it's because they want to give people the right to discriminate."

Farmer fears state senators will add a bunch of amendments to Senate Bill 110 while it is on the Senate floor, broadening the scope of it and making it harder for opponents to stop it.   

Still, Representative Cortes says the bill is needed. "In theory, they say they are already covered by the First Amendment. But one lawsuit, one simple lawsuit, can wipe out an entire religious organization that relies upon donations to keep afloat."  

The Pastor Protection bill has passed through two committees in the Florida House of Representatives, but it has not yet been scheduled for a full vote in the House.