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Florida’s Clergy Did Not Need More Protection from Gays. They Don’t Bite.

| October 11, 2015

gay marriage and clergy in Florida law

Priests don;t have a problem with gay marriage. Politicians do. (Danny Hammontree)

By Nancy Smith

To my knowledge, nobody has threatened a single Florida clergyman. But never mind that. Fear is a powerful unifier. And now legislators in each chamber are plowing ahead with bills to protect the religious freedoms of lawsuit-fearing clergy in case the U.S. Constitution doesn’t.

I think I’ve just gotten too old. How has religion and politics become so tangled up together that they can threaten the veracity of the the law of the land and drive a wedge between people who don’t try hard enough to understand each other?

Wednesday was depressing. I knew the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” was coming, I just didn’t realize how unsavory it would sound, or how subtly divisive.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, introduced HB 43 to the House Subcommittee on Civil Justice. And frankly, I don’t fault him. He was asked to carry a banner, he is a strong social conservative and his manner at every turn was respectful and statesmanlike.

“Court positions in the area of religious freedom have been evolving so rapidly,” Plakon explained. “It’s important that we provide pastors and other clergy who do so much important work in our communities this additional layer of clarity, certainty, comfort, and protection in state law.”

HB 43 would allow anybody who performs marriages to refuse to officiate at a wedding if it violates his/her religious convictions. And the law would make it plain that churches or other religious organizations could refuse “to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges” to support any marriage that violates their theology.

Plakon tried to stay away from aiming the bill directly at the single-sex marriage issue. In fact, at first he stayed so far away Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven tried to help him explain the reason the bill is necessary. “Couldn’t you call this bill an affirmation of our values?”

Pastors who had come to speak certainly did not avoid linking single-sex marriage and HB 43.

In June, the Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage equality the nation over. That decision instilled fear in social conservatives who say same-sex marriage compromises their religious beliefs. It was compounded by a 2014 case in which Houston passed a human rights ordinance that was challenged by a ballot campaign.

The case got sloppy. Houston officials subpoenaed sermons from local churches. Which gave pastors in Houston the notion they were being religiously persecuted.

I promise you, if that were the case, I might have jumped on a plane myself to join the protests across Texas. But the truth is, the subpoenas were intended to question the political motivations of tax-exempt churches waging a political battle. They were dropped because of the controversy. Not only that, the city hadn’t even issued the subpoenas; they came from the pro-bono attorneys working for the ordinance.

Entirely needless divisiveness.

Click On:


Here’s where my age shows: In the 1960s, when one of my college roommates wanted to marry her divorced professor, the Catholic Church told her “no,” we won’t do it. Another college friend and her boyfriend, an interracial couple — were refused a marriage ceremony in their North Carolina Baptist churches. In the 1970s, when my then-divorced husband and I wanted to marry, the Church of England also said “no — not for at least seven years.”

I promise you, in none of those cases did my friends or I remotely consider suing the churches or pastors who turned us away. As I recall, it created a personal sadness, but none of us would ever have dreamed of making it a cause. Ultimately, we all found clergy who married us. End of story.

On Wednesday the Rev. Paul Gibson, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, said it best. “The (Pastor Protection Act) will create fear and confusion in the public and perpetuate the lie that religious freedom and basic human rights are in conflict with one another.” Precisely my feeling.

Gibson suggested that instead of protecting pastors who have the First Amendment on their side, lawmakers spend their time in the Legislature passing bills that protect the state’s most vulnerable — children, the elderly, the disabled, and the persecuted. Good suggestions.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg  debunked one pastor’s statement that nationwide there are six lawsuits against pastors who wouldn’t perform same-sex marriages by pointing out the actual number of suits against clergy is four, and “in a nation of 300 million people, four lawsuits isn’t exactly terrible.” I have to agree. It really isn’t.

Plakon claims there are more bills in the “Pastor Protection Act” vein coming down the ‘pike — not only Aaron Bean’s companion bill in the Senate, but  “bills for private businesses and adoption agencies and workplaces … HB 43 is only one of a handful of bills addressing the outcome of the Supreme Court case.”

It’s a way to make a production of the liberal judiciary’s overreach, I suppose. And it’s probably deserved. But when all is said and done, the bill is unneccessary, the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, the bills are little more than time in a hot-air balloon.

nancy smith sunshine state news columnistNancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.

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25 Responses for “Florida’s Clergy Did Not Need More Protection from Gays. They Don’t Bite.”

  1. Knightwatch says:

    I think the problem is entirely solvable. If recalcitrant clergy won’t perform their religious duties, everyone should just dispense with church marriages and go secular. Works just as well and gives pastors more time to contemplate the end of civilization.

  2. proud yankee says:

    I would let a gay couple baby sit my son well before I would leave him alone with a priest. Just saying.

  3. Nikia says:

    It’s funny how the only vested interest government has in marriage is tax money yet the public thinks the government is out to protect them. This problem could have been easily solved by calling gay marriage civil union or something else agreed upon with the LBGT community yet politicians needed an out to be able to regain tax dollars from tax exempt institutions so they didn’t choose that route and now here we are faced with lawsuits that are completely needless. Marriage as a sacrament is completely different than marriage as a contract which is how the government views it. By taking away tax exemption as in active cases such as the one in Pennsylvania, it’s not just churches in danger of closing. Schools and outreach centers are also on danger of closing over this. Our most vulnerable citizens will feel the repercussions. Right here in Palm Coast more churches perform outreach services than any government organization but no one wants to consider the long term effects of these laws. It’s very sad that our politicians have polarized us this much and it’s sadder still that we believe their lies.

  4. Damn Yankee says:

    Would you leave him with a Islamic imam ?

  5. Eric says:

    The Supreme Court deemed that something that is not equal in nature is equal in law. Opposition to gay marriage is based on biology not bigotry.

  6. Steve says:

    The writer says that religious freedom is protected by the Constitution. The clergy need protection from the liberals that have an agenda that includes the abuse of the Constitution regarding freedom of religion. Taking down the Ten Commandments from government buildings or the Crucifix or any reference to Jesus is not freedom of religion. The 60s were a whole different era and mindset than today. People today are sue happy and the clergy see this coming. My grandson, who lives in Texas, was told to keep his crucifix necklace in his shirt in school by his teacher. How appalling. This liberal thinking is what the bills are designed to prevent. It really has nothing to do with gay rights, it’s more about the abuse of the Constitution by the liberals as we have seen in the past.

  7. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Using that reasoning, couples that want to get married should get fertility testing done to prove that they can make babies before being allowed to get married.

  8. Sherry E says:

    There are certainly those that confuse the bible with the constitution:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    Its origins in the Virginia bill on religious freedom:

    The roots of the First Amendment can be traced to a bill written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 and proposed to the Virginia Legislature in 1779. It guaranteed freedom of (and from) religion. After an impassioned speech by James Madison, and after some amendments, it became law in that state on 1786.

    How the first amendment was written:

    In the spring of 1778, the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia, PA. They resolved three main religious controversies. They:

    1. Decided that there would be no religious test, oath or other requirement for any federal elected office.

    2. Allowed Quakers and others to affirm (rather than swear) their oaths of office.

    3. Refrained from recognizing the religion of Christianity, or one of its denominations, as an established, state church.

  9. Outsider says:

    “But when all is said and done, the bill is unneccessary, the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, the bills are little more than time in a hot-air balloon.”

    This final summary statement is easily proven patently false. The couple who refused to make a cake for a wedding were fined tens of thousands of dollars for doing so. Do the people who write this stuff do any research at all?

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jul/04/oregon-bakery-same-sex-marriage-lawsuit

  10. Knightwatch says:

    Well, Steve, we liberals can point to conservatives’ abuse of the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment to stuff gun violence down the throats of Americans, a majority of whom, by the way, voice approval for reasonable gun control. So, let’s agree to more religious freedom to discriminate and less guns to kill and maim.

    What say?

  11. Sherry E says:

    Think this through. . . this is simply about semantics. . . the words “marriage” or “married” are LEGAL terms vastly embedded in thousands of federal, state, county and city laws through our 50 states. Those laws give those legally connected life partners a vast number of vital rights above and beyond other friends and loved ones. Laws regarding things like hospital visitation, medical decisions, taxes, estates, property. . . and on and on.

    There are many other words that can be used for the RELIGIOUS celebration of such a union. Words that would not require the absolutely massive expense and legislative process of changing WORDS in each and every law in our land pertaining to such life partnerships. The clergy could, for example, bless a union with the words “Holy Matrimony”.

    These are two completely separate unions. . . one is LEGAL and the other is a RELIGIOUS celebration. The religious celebration alone does NOT create a LEGAL marriage. The LEGAL act of marriage alone does NOT create a RELIGIOUS experience.

    Do I think a clergy member should be legally required to perform a celebration of “Holy Matrimony” for every single couple that requests it. . . Certainly NOT!

  12. Nancy N. says:

    Nikia, civil unions are not constitutional. The Supreme Court ruled long ago that “separate but equal” is not actually equal. Now, if the government wanted to make a civil marriage the ONLY kind of legally recognizable ceremony – as is the case in most of Europe – then that would be constitutional. In a large part of Europe everyone has to get a civil ceremony done at their local registrar office to be considered married. A church ceremony is a religious blessing only, not a legal act. Even being royalty doesn’t exempt you from the trip to the registrar!

    This the way it should be done, because you are correct – a religious ceremony is a sacrament, nothing more. But if you look at its historical context (in this country and other countries), religious marriage was used as a convenient way for the government to establish heredity – important for the securing of wealth and for securing the credible succession of ruling families.

    While it is true that a large portion of outreach services are performed by churches, threatening to withdraw those services if ordered to serve everyone equally is the equivalent of holding communities in need hostage! I have a very hard time reconciling threats like that with the supposedly altruistic goals of the programs in the community. Saying “we care more about discriminating than about serving people who need us” doesn’t paint a very good picture of your religion.

  13. Nancy N. says:

    Outsider, the bill in question is supposed to protect clergy members, who are absolutely protected under the constitution. Private individuals and businesses are a separate issue legally and constitutionally.

  14. Nancy N. says:

    Eric, call it what you want but if it has feathers and quacks…it’s a duck.

    Funny, one of these “marriage is for procreation” people seem to have any problem with the plenty of married friends I have that don’t intend to have kids. And no one seems interested in setting an age limit so women can’t get married after menopause when childbearing becomes impossible.

    If you find same sex marriage offensive, or even just downright icky, DON’T HAVE ONE. But keep your nose out of everyone else’s business.

  15. Bill says:

    The “abuse” of our 2nd amendment rights come from our political left

  16. steve says:

    Knightwatch, if I as a conservative don’t like guns, I won’t own one. If a liberal doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t want anyone to have one. The criminals can get and will use their guns regardless of the law. If you are concerned about people being killed with guns, then why don’t we outlaw knives, cars, and baseball bats, because people use those to kill as well.

  17. Sherry says:

    Steve. . . . we have more regulations on the ownership and SAFE driving of cars than we do on lethal weapons. . . so your over used, very tired NRA blather makes no sense what so ever! Boring!

  18. Steve says:

    You said it, Bill. That is all they do is abuse the Constitution to fit their own agenda. It is no longer for the people, it is now in the best interest of the left. This has got to stop.

  19. Outsider says:

    It makes no difference. Just because an individual business owner is not a clergy member does not diminish his/her right to practice religion as he/she sees fit. The constitution doesn’t distinguish between professional clergy and the lay person. It is only a matter of time before someone will sue the clergy for not performing gay weddings, and another suit will be filed claiming the church is engaging in politics and should lose it’s tax exempt status. These bills are intended to preempt that as much as possible. Regardless, this issue is yet another bonanza for the lawyers.

  20. Nancy N. says:

    Steve, you say that as though the left isn’t made up of people.

    And yet, ironically, “the left” as you so derisively refer to it, is a group of people that by and large are driven almost solely by interests in helping ensure a safe, prosperous and healthy life for every citizen of this country.

    Compare that to the GOP right which is largely interested in a prosperous and healthy life for every corporation in this country, and doesn’t care how many people get destroyed in the process. They’re using Supreme Court rulings to allow them to buy elections, deny people health care, and restrict the right to vote.

    Remind me again who is abusing the Constitution for their own agenda?

  21. Knightwatch says:

    Well, Steve, I get your point except that cars, knives and baseball bats are not inherently designed to kill … guns are. You do agree that guns are designed specifically to kill, don’t you, but cars are designed to provide transportation, knives to cut food and baseball bats to swat home runs.

    To continue, guns kill over 32,000 Americans each year … yes, roughly the same number as car deaths. But note that we register all cars and license all drivers. We have national databases of vehicle identification numbers to track legal ownership, sales and stolen cars. We strictly regulate car manufacturers to ensure they provide nationally approved safety features and we certify those cars before they can be sold to the public. We require our citizens to prove they can safely operate a car before we license them, and we strictly regulate their speed and other vehicular behavior. Tell me what we do to similarly “regulate” guns, which are as lethal?

    Over two thirds of homicides in this country are gun related. That’s over 8,000 murders by gun each year. So, even if some homicides are caused by cars, knives and bats, wouldn’t you agree we should address the gun-related homicides first as guns vastly outnumber all other implements of murder? Remember, Steve, guns now kill more Americans aged 24 and under than cars, including about seven adolescents, each and every day in America.

    And finally, Steve, do you know how hard it is to mass kill people with a knife or bat? But it is really easy with semi-automatic weapon. So, Steve, do you still want to compare guns with cars, knives or baseball bats with guns? Do you?

    Think about it.

  22. K says:

    Religious freedom does not give one the right to break the law. Second, The United States Constitution serves as the law of the land for America and indicates the intent of our Founding Fathers. The Constitution forms a secular document, and nowhere does it appeal to God, Christianity, Jesus, or any supreme being. The U.S. government derives from people (not God), as it clearly states in the preamble: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union….” The omission of God in the Constitution did not come out of forgetfulness, but rather out of the Founding Fathers purposeful intentions to keep government separate from religion.

  23. Steve says:

    Sherry, you just proved my point. Regulations on the ownership and SAFE driving of cars does not prevent
    drivers from using their car as a weapon, ie: DUI. How many people are killed by drunk drivers each year? So let’s ban all cars! Same with the regulation of firearms; the more the government tries to regulate guns, the more they benefit the criminals, not us. What say you?

  24. Sherry says:

    This from the NY Times:

    A report out on Tuesday from the Violence Policy Center confirms yet again the lunacy of America’s loose gun policies.

    The report contains the striking finding that gun deaths exceeded all motor vehicle deaths in 14 states and the District of Columbia in 2011, the latest year for which the relevant data are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 12 states in 2010 and 9 states in 2009.

    The 2011 states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia.

    In Alaska, for example, there were 126 gun deaths and 87 motor vehicle deaths. The numbers in Ohio were 1,227 gun deaths and 1,178 motor vehicle deaths.

    Nationwide, the number of motor vehicle deaths still exceeded gun deaths: 35,543 to 32,351. But consider that in 2009 the spread was much larger – 42,624 motor vehicles deaths nationwide and 28,874 gun deaths.

    Overall, the C.D.C. numbers indicate that gun deaths are trending somewhat upward as motor vehicle deaths continue on a steady decline, thanks in large measure to serious government safety regulation aimed at reducing fatalities and injuries that is notably missing in the sphere of firearms.

  25. Sherry says:

    1. Cars are a “necessity” for all families. . . GUNS ARE NOT!
    2. Car deaths are most often accidents. . . MOST GUN DEATHS ARE NOT!
    3. Those abusing driving rules are fined/license suspended. . . NOT SO WITH GUNS!
    4. Cars are used for a peaceful purpose. . . GUNS ARE NOT!
    5. Cars are not used to threaten or intimidate. . . GUNS ARE!
    6. Cars have not contributed to the militarization of our police. . . GUNS HAVE!
    7. Cars are not created and used as lethal weapons. . . GUN ARE!
    8. Cars are not used to kill a baby in it’s crib, children in school, a child playing in a park. . . GUNS ARE!

    Shall I go on and on and on? I think not. . . debating with close minded, unthinking, uncaring souls is a complete waste of my time!

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