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'Pastor Protection Act' finds early LGBT opposition

A bill meant to shield churches and clergy members who object to performing same sex marriages is not sitting well with some members of Florida’s LGBT community.

State Senator Aaron Bean filed the “Pastor Protection Act” (SB 110), which he says is meant to add an “extra layer of protection” to people and organizations who object to performing marriages against their beliefs.

“You can’t force them to do something against their religion.  That’s all it says,” says Sen. Bean.

The proposal would provide a shield from criminal or civil liability and would provide protections for religious organizations’ tax exemptions, government contracts, grants and licenses.

“I can’t imagine anybody being against this bill,” he says.

But the advocacy group Equality Florida is already opposing the bill, which won’t hit the legislature until the 2016 session starting in January.

Spokesman Carlos Guillermo Smith says it address “an invented problem” and “perpetuates homophobia.”

"It stokes the unfounded fears of religious leaders who think they need protection under the law from gay couples.  It tries to address an invented problem for the purpose of scoring political points at the expense of gays and lesbians."

Guillermo Smith says Equality Florida recognizes that churches and clergy members already reserve the right to refuse to solemnize gay couples.

“That is their absolutely their constitutionally their protected right,” he says.  “This bill distracts lawmakers from the real and urgent need to protect Floridians who continue to face discrimination every day.”

Guillermo Smith says the focus should turn to protecting the LGBT community from workplace discrimination.

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