BREAKING: A bill aiming to protect religious organizations when they deny services related to a same-sex wedding was passed by a voice in a House subcommittee today.
Submitted by Delegate Nicholas J. Freitas (top image right, R-30, Culpepper) proposed to shield any person from punishment from the state, civil or otherwise, if they deny services in a same-sex marriage.
The bill, HB2025, defines a person as a “religious organization, organization supervised or controlled by or operated in connection with a religious organization, individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of his paid or volunteer employment, successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality of any of the foregoing or clergy member or minister.
In laymen’s terms, it aimed to protect pastors and other faith leaders in churches from civil or criminal punishment if they denied services to same-sex couples. However the bill was also interpreted by some activists to include other faith-based organizations like church run schools or hospitals, giving them the ability to refuse visitation rights by same-sex couples, or deny the children of same-sex parents in parochial programs.
A similar bill was submitted last year on the Senate-side by Sen. Charles Carrico, a retired police officer from Galax, VA. Carrico’s version passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. McAuliffe in the Spring session.
“Any legitimate protections afforded by [Carrico's bill] are duplicative of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States;” wrote McAuliffe in a statement sent out after vetoing the bill in late March 2016. He also pointed to Virginia’s long-held Religious Freedoms Act which already allows religious leaders and orgs like priests and churches to deny services if it violates their beliefs.
Criticism has followed solemnization bills as they often repeat language already present in state’s religious freedom bills, but the steps to slow LGBTQ-progress in ways like this are a priority for the GOP as of their 2016 presidential platform.
GayRVA will follow this bill as it advances through the House in the coming weeks.