Since the Supreme Court overturned Ohio’s voter approved ban on same-sex marriage, the rights of clergy members to refuse marriage on religious grounds has been questioned. House Bill 286, known as the Pastor Protection Act, aims to protect the clergy’s right to deny marriage, but it falls short in many ways.
House Bill 286 only provides protection to clergy members. While this is an important step, it leaves many others without the right to religious objection. This bill provides no protection to venues or vendors, like church facilities and Knights of Columbus Halls, wishing to not provide services to those operating against their religious beliefs.
This legislation also, for the first time, defines the right of clergy to refuse marriage. However, this is a long-held practice that has never before needed to be in code. By defining this ability, we must ensure that the definition isn’t so narrow that clergy can no longer refuse marriage in instances where they could before.
Additionally, under this bill elected officials, like mayors and judges, would still be forced to carry out same-sex marriages regardless of their beliefs. Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell of Toledo recently refused to marry a same-sex couple based on his Christian beliefs. When he asked the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct for an official opinion they said “judges who perform civil marriages may not refuse to perform same-sex marriages over personal beliefs.”
House Bill 286 establishes two separate but equal classes of marriage providers that can officiate a marriage with all the same benefits, including title. This new system closely mirrors a civil union, which distinguishes a separate path for those wishing to be married outside of the church. While I see major problems with removing marriage from the church, if the bill sponsor wants to discuss civil unions it may be more appropriate to openly discuss comprehensive reform. By passing HB 286 and separating marriage between church and civil marriage the legislature would be solidifying same-sex marriage in our state.
At this time, I do not know what the final solution will be for contending with the same-sex marriage issue in Ohio, but any attempt to address it should be met with thorough scrutiny of the bill’s consequences. House Bill 286 has been introduced without consideration of what it may actually do to traditional marriage.
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