News (USA)

GOP: Clergy can refuse to perform gay marriages

House Speaker David Ralston
House Speaker David Ralston AP Photo/David Goldman

ATLANTA -— A top-ranking Republican leader wants to make clear that Georgia clergy can refuse to perform gay marriages, a protection they already enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.

The proposal from House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican lawyer from Blue Ridge, would amount to more of a political statement than a legal change. The wording he proposed would make clear that the government cannot force a clergy member to solemnize any marriage in violation of the clergy person’s religious beliefs.

Ralston called it a narrowly drawn measure after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in places that previously forbade those unions, including Georgia. The measure could be debated when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year.

“We will reinforce our commitment to the separation of church and state as well as reaffirm the right of the clergy to carry out their duties as their religious beliefs — not government — prescribes,” Ralston said in a statement earlier this month.

Lawyers say the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution already prevents the government from either establishing religious standards for marriage or forcing religious practitioners from violating their beliefs by solemnizing same-sex unions. In other words, Ralston’s law would not change anything.

“It is completely unnecessary but doesn’t, from what I know about it, seem to do a lot of harm, either,” said attorney Alan Begner, who handles free speech claims and teaches law at the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. “It’s just sort of grandstanding.”

The gay rights group Georgia Equality said it would not object to the current proposal, according to its executive director, Jeff Graham.

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