Arizona Republicans Look to Prevent Churches From Being "Forced" to Host Gay Marriages

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Many Republican lawmakers are backing a bill that would prevent churches or ministers from getting "forced" to have anything to do with gay marriages.

Although the Arizona Constitution effectively bans gay marriages in the state, this is proposed in case the situation changes. The bill, House Bill 2481, is the second piece of legislation proposed this year that calls for allowing a certain group of people to discriminate against gay people.

The other is Senate Bill 1062, proposed by Republican Senator Steve Yarbrough, would defend businesses that refuse to serve gay people, if the business owner is asserting that he's doing so based on a religious belief.

In a committee hearing last week, Yarbrough specifically linked the purpose of his bill with a case in New Mexico, where a photographer refused to shoot a gay couple's wedding.

In HB 2481, sponsored by Republican Representative Steve Montenegro, only churches and ministers would be able to turn down requests to perform or host gay marriages.

Montenegro issued a statement before the legislative session started, signaling his intention to propose this bill, and explaining the reasoning behind the proposal:

"There are a number of churches and ministers who have publicly campaigned for same-sex marriage and who have indicated a willingness to perform them. There is no need to force churches and their officials to participate, and Arizona's First Freedom Act will ensure that those on the radical left will not be able to use same-sex marriage as a weapon against those churches whose teachings and beliefs are irreconcilably at odds with it."

Specifically, the bill says, in part, "Government may not require a minister to solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with the minister's sincerely held religious beliefs."

So while the intent is to target gay marriage, it could apply to any kind of marriage that doesn't sit well with a minister's beliefs.

It appears that similar legislation has been proposed in other states, including Utah and South Dakota.

As for Arizona's bill, 35 Republican legislators have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors, including Montenegro.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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