The California Assembly is preparing to debate a bill which would reaffirm religious freedom in marriage.

Openly gay state Senator Mark Leno introduced the measure in February and it cleared the Senate with a 23-11 vote in May.

Senate Bill 1140 clarifies that under state law no member of clergy will be required to perform a marriage that is contrary to his or her faith. The bill would also protect churches from losing their tax-exempt status if they refused to perform a marriage that is contrary to their faith.

Leno said the bill was needed to assure religious leaders that legalizing gay marriage would not violate their freedom of religion.

“In the debate surrounding Proposition 8, some members of clergy expressed concerns that their freedom of religion could be infringed upon if they were forced to recognize marriages contrary to their religious faith,” Leno said in a statement. “While we do not believe that to be true, this legislation makes it absolutely clear under state law that churches and clergy members have solid protections when it comes to marriage for same-sex couples. With momentum building in support of marriage for same-sex couples, we know it is only a matter of time before California will again have the freedom to marry, making this clarification especially necessary.”

Speaking to The Sacramento Bee, the Rev. Rick Schlosser, executive director of the California Council of Churches, said some churches in his organization oppose the bill because they are “afraid this will take away one of their major arguments.”

Others said they were offended that the measure says marriage is a civil contract, not a religious one.

Bill May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, said the bill “creates confusion by introducing a new definition of marriage.”

“The real threat to churches is same-sex couples renting facilities when a church is trying to teach its congregation that marriage is between a man and a woman,” May said.