The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Vaishalee Raja, Communications Director

State Senate Passes Equality California Bill Strengthening Religious Freedoms for Clergy

Introduced by Senator Mark Leno, bill affirms that no clergy member will be forced under law to perform any civil marriage that is against his or her belief system


The California Senate today passed the Civil Marriage Religious
Freedom Act (SB 906) in a 23-11 vote. The bill protects clergy from
performing any civil marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his or
her faith and provides clear distinctions between civil and religious
marriage in state law. Introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco)
and co-sponsored by Equality California and California Council of
Churches IMPACT, the legislation also includes in state law that clergy
are able to choose which civil marriages they solemnize.

"We thank legislators for voting today to
codify in state law freedom of religion," said Geoff Kors, executive
director of Equality California. "We are confident that same-sex couples
will one day have the right to marry in California, and when that time
comes this law will reassure faith leaders who have opposed marriage
equality due to fears they would be compelled to perform marriages
conflicting with their beliefs that state law, in fact, safeguards their
religious freedoms."

The Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act also
protects religious institutions from losing their tax-exempt status for
refusing to perform any civil marriage.

"This bill is essential to protecting our
freedom of religion guaranteed by the first amendment," said the Rev.
Dr. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director, California Council of Churches
IMPACT. "It is as imperative that we protect the religious freedom to
not solemnize marriage for same-sex couples for clergy and congregations
who oppose it on the basis of their conscience or faith tradition as it
is to protect the religious freedom of those who do support marriage
equality to be able to solemnize all committed unions. California
Council of Churches IMPACT represents faith traditions on both sides of
this question, and this bill perfectly codifies legal protection for all
our faith communities."

In addition, the bill deepens the distinction
in state law between religious and civil marriage, defining the latter
as a civil contract that requires a state-issued marriage license.

"This bill simply affirms that California is a
diverse state and that we can all co-exist and make space for each
others' beliefs without compromising the beliefs of any religious group
or individual," said Senator Leno. "With the Civil Marriage Religious
Freedom Act, churches and clergy members who fear their religious views
are threatened by marriage equality will have clear and solid
protections under state law. In addition, churches that welcome same-sex
couples will continue to fully recognize those families within their

To find out more information about EQCA's
legislation, visit

Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians.