Caution Urged as Ohio Senate Mulls Pastor Protection Act

Caution Urged as Ohio Senate Mulls Pastor Protection Act
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Controversial legislation in Ohio known as the Pastor Protection Act is making its way closer to the governor's desk.

A Senate committee could schedule a vote this week on House Bill 36, which would protect the right of clergy members to refuse to perform weddings that violate their religious beliefs.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana), says the bill is meant to protect religious freedom and prevent tension and lawsuits regarding same-sex marriage.

However, Grant Stancliff, communications director for the advocacy group Equality Ohio, says these protections already are established in the law.

"We don't want to force any pastor or clergy to do anything," he stresses. "You know, marriage is a civil right but it's also for many a sacred rite and we don't want to force anybody to go against their beliefs in any fashion."

Stancliff says there are no lawsuits or threats of ligation against clergy about these established rights.

Three Senate committee hearings were held last week on HB 36, which was passed by the House in June.

The bill also would allow religious societies to deny public accommodations for weddings to couples based on religious beliefs.

Stancliff explains that not just LGBTQ couples, but also interfaith or interracial couples, could face discrimination.

"Ohio's civil rights law doesn't include LGBTQ folks right now, but it does include things like sex, race, military status, right?" he points out. "So these are all classes that this bill says don't matter when it comes to property owned by religious societies."

There have been efforts to pass the Pastor Protection Act in Ohio since 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.