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S.D. to consider bills to allow businesses to refuse services for same-sex ceremonies

Saturday, January 25, 2014
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PIERRE, S.D. — Two bills filed in the South Dakota Legislature seek to protect clergy, church officials and businesspeople who refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages or receptions because of their religious beliefs.

South Dakota capitol in Pierre.

South Dakota capitol in Pierre.

The South Dakota Constitution and states laws already ban gay marriage, but Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, said he proposed the bills because courts could overturn the ban as they have in other states. Lawsuits in some states have threatened businesses that refused to provide wedding cakes, flowers or other services for same-sex ceremonies, he said.

The bills would prevent clergy or businesses from being forced to perform or supply goods or services to anything related to same-sex marriages. It could allow a South Dakota business to refuse to host a reception for a same-sex couple legally married in another state.

The bills also say clergy and businesses could not be sued or charged with crimes if they refused to take part in gay marriages.

Otten said the measures are not intended to hurt gay people, but he believes gay-rights activists are going too far in suing people who refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or to provide services for such weddings.

“It’s unconscionable that somebody from the outside would come in and bring a family business to ruin over activism,” Otten said.

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Don Frankenfeld, of Rapid City, a member of Equality South Dakota, said he believes the bill dealing with clergy is irrelevant because the constitutional separation of church and state protects clergy members from being forced to perform any ceremony that runs counter to their beliefs.

Frankenfeld said the measure dealing with businesses seems to be an assault on the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed mostly to prevent businesses from refusing service to black people.

“You can’t be forced to believe that gay marriage is OK. But you can be forced and you should be forced in your business to provide the same goods and services you provide to anyone else, regardless of their orientation or their color or their religion,” Frankenfeld said.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, the lead House sponsor of the measures, said the bills are tolerant of gay people and those who oppose same-sex marriage. Gay people can find someone to marry them and provide wedding services, but they shouldn’t be able to force pastors or businesses to take part.

A similar bill is currently pending in Arizona.

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