TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a controversial bill aimed at protecting clergy members from performing same-sex marriages against their religious beliefs.
The 23-15 vote will send the bill (HB 43) to Gov. Rick Scott, as the House approved the measure Wednesday.
The proposal came after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that said gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry.
With that verdict, said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, "the entire marriage world turned upside down. … Some celebrated it. Some are still scratching their heads."
The proposal, dubbed the "Pastor Protection Act," would prevent churches, pastors and church employees from facing lawsuits for discrimination if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
But opponents said the bill would open the door for pastors to refuse to marry interracial couples or divorced people.
"I'm afraid it might turn the clock back," said Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat and veteran of the civil-rights movement. "I've been there, and I don't want to relive history."
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said the proposal sent an anti-business message.
"I know this is more limited than what other states have done -- I get that," Ring said. "But when other states have gone down this path, there has been a significant backlash from the business community."
But Bean, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said people thinking of moving to Florida would appreciate its low taxes, warm weather and -- with the bill -- its celebration of religious freedom.
"So I think the business community is going to embrace it so well," he said.
To Joyner, Bean said, "Discrimination goes two ways. That's what these pastors and … churches are scared to death of -- this new environment where they can be discriminated against."