The West Virginia House of Delegates on
Tuesday approved a bill that would protect clergy who decline to
solemnize marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs.
The bill (House Bill 4010) cleared the
House with a 90-5 vote and now heads to the Senate.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, a Democrat from
Kanawha, was one of the few lawmakers opposed to the bill. He said
it was a solution looking for a problem.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, a
Republican from Mercer, disagreed, saying that despite the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom guarantees
in the West Virginia Constitution, faith leaders could face lawsuits
for refusing to solemnize a marriage.
“Some commentators have theorized
that it is possible that the government could impose a condition on
its grant of the authority to solemnize marriages and could require
the celebrant to be willing to serve all couples,” Shott said.
While the bill could apply to a number
of different marriages, including interfaith marriages or marriages
where divorce was a factor, supporters pointed to cases where
businesses were sued because they refused to serve gay couples.
“Maybe there's not a case here, on
record yet, in the state of West Virginia, but ask the cake baker,
ask the photographer who refuses to perform part of a wedding
function based on sincerely held religious beliefs,” Delegate Tom
Fast, a Republican from Fayette, is quoted as saying by the