Florida law will specify that churches can't be forced to marry same-sex couples under a bill the Legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday. Scott's office said he'll sign the measure, which opponents say isn't necessary and is simply an overreaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
Bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Bean acknowledged last year's ruling is the reason for his bill, which passed on a 23-15 vote with only Republicans in favor and Democrats joined by only one Republican in opposition.
"A definition of marriage that many held sacred and part of their religious belief was turned upside down,'' said Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. "The entire marriage world turned upside down. Some celebrated and some are still scratching their heads, but that's now the law of the land. So, that's why we're here.''
However, Bean couldn't provide an example in Florida of a church being told it had to marry a gay couple. Democrats said the state and federal constitutions already protect churches and they can already refuse to marry any couple, gay or not, based on their religious beliefs.
"We already have these protections,'' said Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando. "We have been repealing unnecessary laws but here we are ... considering putting an unnecessary law in our statutes.''
The bill says churches and religious-based organizations also could bar gay couples from holding ceremonies and receptions at their facilities.
Bean said that the bill was about protecting churches from what could happen in the future and said he hopes his bill is unnecessary.
"Have you ever heard of a senator or a representative that hopes their bill is never used or tested? I'm the first,'' he said. "Hopefully no one will ever challenge somebody in the practice of their religion. That will be a sad day in our nation in our state ... Some say that's where our nation is headed.''
The House passed the bill (HB 43) on Wednesday. The law will take effect July 1.