“Religious Freedom” in Ohio

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Ohio Statehouse : Bob Hall

Ohio Pastor Protection Act passes Ohio House with act taking precedence over existing public accommodation protections

“A RFRA for your wedding day” LGBTQ advocates call it

COLUMBUS––Today, the Ohio House passed HB36 or the “Pastor Protection Act”––a bill whose name does not reflect its purpose.

The bill sponsor says the intention is to shield clergy if they decline to marry a same-sex couple, but advocates disagree.

Clergy already have that right under the United States Constitution’s First Amendment and Article I of Ohio’s Constitution.

Unfortunately, this bill does not end there. Advocates say that if it did, they would not be opposed to it.

Representative Nino Vitale, the bill sponsor, said on the House Floor today “that’s what this bill is, this is an Ohio RFRA.” Later, Representative Bill Seitz introduced an amendment prioritizing HB36’s provisions over existing public accommodations law. His amendment passed 59-29.

“The problem with the bill is not that clergy can choose not to marry someone if it goes against their faith. They currently have––and should have––that right. It is that the bill goes further, and allows for undefined ‘religious societies’ to discriminate against couples seeking to marry with regard to public accommodations. This means that  couples of all sorts––including interfaith couples and interracial couples, who are currently protected under state law––could experience discrimination in accessing a Knights of Columbus hall for a wedding reception, for example,” said Alana Jochum, Executive Director, Equality Ohio. “Property and services rented to the public at large must be available to all, regardless of race, sex, religion and other protected characteristics. We will continue to fight this provision in the bill in the Ohio Senate.”

An amendment to remove this harmful provision was attempted to be introduced by Representative Boyd, but was rejected on procedural grounds.

On the floor, Representative Boyd said “There is no feeling at all like being turned away for what you are, for who your Creator made you to be.”

“We would not be opposed to this bill if the amendment would have been accepted, but as it is, it’s a RFRA for your wedding day,” Jochum said.

Equality Ohio educates and advocates on behalf of LGBTQ Ohioans and believes in a state everyone can call home regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.