TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s time representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol is coming to an end while clergy will be able to say no to gay weddings under new laws approved by Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.
Scott signed a bill that requires Smith’s statue in the National Statuary Hall be replaced. Another among the more than two dozen he signed puts into law language that specifies clergy don’t have to marry same-sex couples — a right many said is already protected under state law and the U.S. Constitution.
Among other new laws: Florida will boycott companies that boycott Israel, disabled veterans will get free parking at public airports and Floridians will be able to designate a custodian to access and manage their social media, email and online financial accounts when they die or become incapacitated.
But the replacement of Smith and the so-called pastor protection bill were easily the two most talked about among the batch of bills.
Hours were spent debating the pastor protection bill in committee and on the chamber floors, with Republicans saying they wanted to give peace of mind to church leaders who fear societal changes could force them to marry gay couples against their religious beliefs. Democrats questioned the motivations behind the measure, saying clergy already can choose not to marry any couple, gay or not. It was seen as making a political statement against gay marriage, and supporters acknowledged the bill was a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
“It’s totally unnecessary and it’s also motivated by a disapproval of same sex couples,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, spokesman for the gay rights group Equality Florida. “We had to go through this divisive exercise in political posturing that was a giant waste of time.”
Some Republican legislators objected to the bill that will replace Smith’s statue, saying it was an attempt to erase Southern history. Smith is famous largely as the last Confederate officer to surrender a significant force at the end of the Civil War, nearly two months after Robert E. Lee’s April 9, 1865, surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Each state is allowed two statues in the Capitol. John Gorrie, whose inventions led to modern air conditioning and refrigeration, also represents Florida in the Capitol. The Department of State’s Division of historical resources will provide three recommendations to replace Smith.