SB 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, which would protect clergy members from performing same-sex marriages passed 21-10.
The ACLU, Equality Texas and Texas Freedom Network advocated for language that a clergy member may only refuse to officiate marriages that violate their conscience “in that official capacity” failed. Despite their efforts Estes refused in both the State Affairs committee hearing and on the floor to add the language.
Without the four words, they argued, faith leaders may be able to deny same-sex marriage licenses if they serve in a secular capacity, such as justice of the piece or county clerk.
Proponents, including numerous conservative faith leaders, argued the bill was necessary to protect their right to deny performing a same-sex marriage.
“The First Amendment already protects clergy from being forced to officiate religious ceremonies that violate their consciences, so it’s unnecessary to pass a bill to protect against this,” said Sarah Jones, a communications associate with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “But if a member of the clergy accepts a job as a public official, they have a duty to uphold the laws of the state and municipality in which they serve, and should treat all people equally and fairly.
The bill’s passage comes ahead of a summer Supreme Court hearing on marriage equality.
The Senate will make one final procedural vote tomorrow (Tuesday, May 12) when the House votes on its companion, HB 3567 by Rep. Scott Sanford. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, previously said he intends to sign the bill.