We don't need Indiana-style legislation like HB 3567

Clergy in Texas don’t have to perform a wedding for a same-sex couple if they don’t want to.  That’s a right they already have. Legal protections are in place at the state and federal level that allow pastors and other faith leaders to opt out of such ceremonies.

So why are we even bring up the matter? Because a Texas state lawmaker came up with a solution -- House Bill 3567 -- for a problem that doesn’t exist. And the consequences of the legislation aren’t limited to wedding ceremonies.

The bill, by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, will get a public hearing today (April 22) in the House Committee on State Affairs. The legislation, if passed, would “protect” the right of clergy members not to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, a right that is already guaranteed by religious freedom afforded in the U.S. Constitution and by the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

If the bill stopped there and reaffirmed a right pastors already have, perhaps it would be harmless. But it doesn’t. The bill goes way beyond that and also allows "religious organizations” (broadly defined) to pick and choose which marriages they recognize for “any purpose,” opening the door to discrimination in secular contexts.

For example, a religiously affiliated adoption agency could decide it doesn’t want to place a child with an interfaith couple. A religious hospital could also deny a legally married man the right to make medical decisions for his spouse on the grounds that he was previously divorced. Or a faith-based homeless shelter or food bank funded by taxpayers could decline to serve an interracial family.

None of these situations would have anything to do with performing a marriage ceremony. But Rep. Sanford and supporters of his bill in and outside the Capitol, in their haste to exempt themselves from an expected Supreme Court freedom to marry ruling they may not like, would leave legally married couples, heterosexual or of the same-sex, open to discrimination.

We’ve already seen how singling out LGBT people for discrimination backfired in Indiana, Arizona, and Arkansas, making those states seem hostile and unwelcoming. Texas mustn’t make the same mistake by passing HB 3567.