A bill which would allow all persons authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in Virginia, including judges and public officiants, to refuse to conduct marriages that violate a “sincerely held religious belief” passed a full Senate vote today and is now headed to the House.
SB 41, sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, had gone through a number of changes from when it was first introduced earlier this year. The final version of the bill says no individual authorized to solemnize any marriage shall be forced to do so if it violated a ”sincerely held religious belief.” It also would stop the state from taking any action against any person of business who refuses “to solemnize a marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges.” SB 41 has become a mirror for Del. Todd Gilbert’s religious freedoms bill which similarly protects discriminatory action from government scrutiny.
Carrico, who compared being gay to having cancer at at a recent committee hearing, defended his bill during Friday’s Senate session saying “an individual has a deeply held religious belief, and if you’re wanting that person to violate that, you might not as well not have a constitutional amendment that says ‘an individual can’t be forced to do something… against that religious belief’.”
“I firmly believe marriage is between one man and and one woman. I don’t consult other legislators or outside groups,” Sen. Carrico told GayRVA in an interview explaining his bill ahead of the 2016 GA session. “I represent my people… I didn’t come to Richmond to be politically correct.”
During Friday’s session, Senator Adam Ebbin, Virginia’s only openly gay senator, asked a series of questions of Sen. Carrico hoping to clarify the impacts the bill would make – would it impact interfaith couples, would this allow a church hall to deny access based on race? Would this bill allow a judge to refuse a marriage?
“He is just trying to confuse the section,” replied Carrico about Ebbin’s questions. “All these questions directed toward discrimination are not in this section and [he']s just trying to confused everyone about what this bill does.”
It appears, around this point, Ebbin had enough:
“I want to be clear that the state should not, and under existing law can not, force clergy or houses of worship to perform or host marriage ceremonies with which they have religious objections, unless they hold out those public accommodations to all members of the public,” he said. “I think this bill is clearly unnecessary. Virginians are already well protected against government discrimination based on religion by the Virginia statue on religious freedom and further by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which forbids government entities from burdening a person’s free exorcize of religion.”
Ebbin noted Carrico’s law would allow judges and state employees the right to deny marriage licenses, even though they are paid and authorized by the state.
“These are public people we’re allowing to discriminate based on their privately held religious beliefs,” Ebbin said. “it’s a solution in search of a problem. We are the birthplace of the statute of religious freedom… it is core to who we are as a Commonwealth. Proposals like these, licenses like these, desecrate the very thing they claim to protect.”
Check out all of Ebbin’s speech below:
Despite Ebbin’s protests, the Senate voted 20-19 in support of the bill which will head to the House after next week’s cross over.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to veto this bill if it arrives at his desk, as well as a House bill which grants similar protections for people if they discriminate against same-sex couples in line with their “deeply held religious beliefs.”
GayRVA will follow this bill as it advances, so stay tuned.