Clearly aimed at same-sex marriage – a hot button issue in the state today, the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday approved a bill by a vote of 69 – 25 that would allow those empowered to officiate weddings to legally opt-out of performing weddings they felt offended their religious beliefs.
Although the bill does not directly address same-sex marriage, opponents said the legislation targeted gay and lesbian couples and could allow religiously-affiliated organizations, such as hospitals, to deny benefits and services to same-sex couples.
“We’re here because we want to condemn a population we don’t understand and we don’t like,” said Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the only openly gay member of the Alabama Legislature. “It doesn’t change anything, but it will help (lawmakers) in districts show they will stand up against same sex-sex marriage.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, said the legislation — introduced amid a statewide controversy over the legality of same-sex marriage — was not about same-sex marriage.
“I received several phone calls from constituents in St. Clair County, primarily ministers and judges who asked me whether the mere fact an individual is authorized to perform a marriage ceremony (means) are they compelled to perform a marriage ceremony,” he said in introducing the bill.
The legislation says “no church, synagogue, society or religious organization” can be sued over a refusal to provide accommodations or services “related to the recognitions, solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”