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California's Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906) A Step Away From Governor's Desk

Opponents of marriage equality have falsely claimed that allowing same-sex couples to marry will force clergy to violate the tenets of their faiths. This bill should alleviate any concerns that restoring marriage equality will require clergy to perform weddings inconsistent with their faith.

~Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, regarding the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 905).

Oh, those optimists at Equality California.

Last week, the California State Assembly voted to approve the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906). Thumbnail Link to Equality California's webpage for the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906)Since the California State Senate voted to approve the bill in late May, this bill one State Senate vote away from heading off to Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk.

What is SB 906 designed to do? Per the State Senate’s webpage for SB 906:

This bill distinguishes between civil and religious marriage by clarifying that a civil marriage is established pursuant to a State of California marriage license, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary. This bill specifies that no priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination would be required to solemnize a marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his/her faith. This bill additionally states that any refusal to solemnize a marriage under that provision shall not affect the tax exempt status of any entity.

One might think most, if not all, social conservatives would be for a bill that specifically guaranteed their First Amendment freedom of religion protections, especially when it came to specific protections for ministers who don’t want to solemnize marriages that they believe are immoral. That, of course, is so not so.

The Baptist Press’s Innocent-Sounding Calif. Bill Could Help Legalize ‘Gay Marriage’, Some Say quotes the California Family Council‘s past Legislative Coordinator, Everett Rice, said this regarding the evils of SB 906.

The concern is over the specific changing of the California statute to create a new class of civil marriage. We are concerned that that’s going to become another avenue of actually changing the definition of marriage itself. That’s been pretty much the focus of Sen. Leno’s and those who support homosexual marriage. Our concern is that the bill incrementally begins the process of doing that. What we’ve seen in the past is that measures like these incrementally try to change whole institutions.

The California Family Council website itself states that their organizationopposes this legislation. This organization — an organization which identifies itself as being associated with Focus on the Familystates why they oppose SB 906:

Existing law defines marriage as a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary.

This bill would instead define the term civil marriage as a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, established pursuant to a State of California marriage license issued by the county clerk, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary.

The bill would also make conforming related changes by changing certain references to marriage to civil marriage.

That said, the California Southern Baptist Convention stated they believe the SB 906 to be “good legislation.” From the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bill Would Let Clergy Refuse To Marry Gays:

Several religious organizations support the measure, including the California Southern Baptist Convention, which supported Prop. 8. Terry Barone, spokesman for the convention, called it “good legislation.”

“That certainly would seem to add protections for a clergy member who, for whatever reason, might be hesitant to perform a marriage ceremony,” he said.

So, where do you think California Republicans stand on this bill? Per California’s State Senate website, voting against this were Republican assemblymembers Anthony Adams (59th Assembly District), Joel Anderson (77th Assembly District), Bill Berryhill (26th Assembly District), Tom Berryhill (25th Assembly District), Connie Conway (34th Assembly District), Paul Cook (65th Assembly District), Chuck DeVore (70th Assembly District), Jean Fuller (32nd Assembly District), Gaines (4th Assembly District), Martin Garrick (74th Assembly District), Danny Gilmore (30th Assembly District), Curt Hagman (60th Assembly District), Diane Harkey (73rd Assembly District), Kevin Jeffries (66th Assembly District), Steve Knight (36th Assembly District), Dan Logue (3rd Assembly District), Jeff Miller (71st Assembly District), Brian Nestande (64th Assembly District), Roger Niello (5th Assembly District), Jim Nielsen (2nd Assembly District), Norby (72nd Assembly District), Jim Silva (67th Assembly District), Cameron Smyth (38th Assembly District), Audra Strickland (37th Assembly District), Van Tran (68th Assembly District), and Mike Villines (29th Assembly District) all voted against the bill — That’s the entirety of the California Assembly Republican Caucus. The votes from California State Senate Republican Caucus on this bill are in the same vein as the California Assembly Republican Caucus, with the exception of two Republican State Senators (Dave Cox and Tom Harman) who did not have votes recorded on the bill.

One only can wonder how one could actually have worded the freedom of religion protections of SB 906 to satisfy the most right wing portion of the religious right and California’s Republicans. I have a feeling one couldn’t design language that would be satisfactory to these folk.

My personal opinion on this is that the Republican politicians and the furthest right of the religious right would rather hold onto their false freedom of religion and freedom of speech arguments regarding any legislation that remotely deals with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In my opinion, these folk want to make those arguments into the future, even when legislators are trying to directly address those concerns head on.

Mario Guerrero, the Government Affairs Director for Equality California, asked the question Will California’s Republicans stand for religious freedom? We now know the answer to that question, and the answer is “No.”


Further Reading:

* Equality California: California Passes Legislation Strengthening Religious Freedoms

* New California Bill Protects Pastors from Performing Homosexual Marriages; but It Could Legalize ‘Homosexual Marriage’ by Calling All Marriages Civil Unions



* Equality California Sponsors Bill Strengthening Religious Freedoms for Clergy

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