The US state of Georgia last week passed a bill would would protect religious bodies who refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

The bill, HB 757, has been widely condemned, but was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives 161-0.

It also passed the Georgia Senate by a vote of 38 – 14.

Cross

Called the ‘Pastor Protection Act’, the bill reads: “No minister of the gospel or cleric or religious practitioner ordained or authorised to solemnise marriages, perform rites, or administer sacraments according to the usages of the denomination, when acting in his or her official religious capacity, shall be required to solemnise any marriage, perform any rite or administer any sacrament in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion under the Constitution of this state or the United States,”

It defines religious organisations as churches, religious schools and association or convention of churches.

The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Kevin Tanner who said: “The Pastor Protection Act is a simple reaffirmation of our bedrock principle of separation of church and state.

“It makes clear that Georgia respects and honours the sacred oaths taken by our pastors, priests, rabbis and other clergy and that government has no intention of asking them to violate those oaths,”

In addition to protecting clergy, the bill also means places of worship cannot be forced to host events violating their religious doctrine.

“It allows faith-based organisations to withhold services if they choose to do so,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, in his testimony before the Georgia Senate.

“I am especially concerned that this bill will have a chilling effect on the state’s LGBT families.”

“HB 757 is a shameful and irresponsible bill that would create broad loopholes and put LGBT Georgians in real danger of discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

“The freedom to practice one’s religion is a core American value, and that’s exactly why it’s protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That’s why it’s so disingenuous to claim HB 757 is anything other than an attempt to license discrimination. House leadership should listen to the business and religious community leaders who have opposed this bill because of what it truly is: an unacceptable attack on LGBT people, single parents and unmarried couples.”