clergy don’t have to perform same-sex marriages
Utahns overwhelmingly support legislation clarifying that clergy don’t have to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples, a new poll shows.
Specifically, UtahPolicy.com asked, “Several legislators say they will introduce bills to make it even more clear that clergy don’t have to perform same-sex marriages or conduct or condone same-sex marriage associations. Do you support or oppose such a bill?”
The survey found 64 percent of residents strongly favor such measures, while 16 percent somewhat favor them. It also showed 6 percent would strongly oppose the legislation, and 7 percent would somewhat oppose it. Dan Jones & Associates polled 405 registered voters Oct. 14-16. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, is among the Utah lawmakers who intend to introduce “religious freedom” legislation when the Legislature meets in January.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Senate put the brakes on those kinds of bills in the 2014 session, citing Utah’s appeal of a federal court ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
After the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month let stand lower court rulings allowing gays and lesbians to marry, state legislators said it’s time move the legislation forward.
“I do want it very expressly known that this isn’t meant to say we hate what the law is. It’s just that the First Amendment needs to be upheld,” Anderegg said in interview earlier this month.
Anderegg is proposing a law and a resolution for an amendment to the Utah Constitution that would exempt not only clergy but state and local government officials and judges from having to solemnize marriages that go against their religious beliefs. Cliff Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and an Equality Utah board member, doesn’t have a problem with clarifying that clergy don’t have to perform same-sex marriages, though he said it’s not needed.
“The First Amendment already clearly protects this right. No clergy member has ever been forced to marry anyone,” he said in an interview this month.
But including government officials and judges in the bill, Rosky said, goes too far and is likely unconstitutional.
“That’s treating people unequally,” he said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent instructions on same-sex marriage to congregational leaders in January, shortly after a federal judge overturned Utah’s law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
“Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions or other activities associated with same-sex marriages,” according to the letter from the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, this week touted the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act as one of the most critical pieces of legislation he pushed through in his tenure. The statute requires federal laws to accommodate individuals’ religious beliefs unless there is a compelling interest at stake that can’t be attained through other means.
Hatch called the bill a “last-ditch hope” to stem anti-religious sentiment in the United States.
“If we don’t have religious freedom in this country, we don’t have anything. We’re going to be just like Europe,” he told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards on Monday.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not be applied to the states. Since then, at least 19 states have adopted their own versions of the law. Utah is not one of them.