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Pastor Protection Act passes first hurdles
Goes before full House for vote
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One of several proposed religious freedom bills won approval in the Georgia House Judiciary Commitee on Tuesday and now moves on to the full House for a vote.

Known as the Pastor Protection Act, House Bill 757 would grant clergy the right to refuse to perform same-sex marriages or ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs.

"It passed out [of subcommittee] unanimously after a couple of minor changes were made. There was an attempt to amend some language in section three that could change the scope of the bill, but that did not occur," Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, who authored the legislation, said last week following Thursday's subcommittee vote.

A deacon at his church in Dawsonville, Tanner said he started receiving phone calls from ministers shortly after last year's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage concerned about how the decision could affect them.

"A lady in Lumpkin called me crying. Her husband's a preacher. She said, ‘he'll end up going to jail, because he won't do it,'" Tanner said. "Some other states have pastor protection, so we started looking at that. This bill makes sure he doesn't have to perform a ceremony that goes against his core beliefs."

The bill would also allow religious organizations to deny access to their facilities for events that go against their faith.

"This is not just about dealing with same-sex marriages," Tanner said. "It could also be a Jewish synagogue not allowing a Muslim event. It also deals with religious non-profits, Salvation Army, that owns facilities, they cannot be forced to participate or rent out their facilities."

The bill, along with other faith-based legislation circulating through the General Assembly, has been met with controversy, specifically in the gay community, though Tanner said his intention is to balance rights.

Hundreds rallied at the state capital Tuesday in opposition of the religious freedom bills being considered by lawmakers, saying the proposed laws support discrimination.

On Wednesday afternoon, supporters of the faith-based bills, including Franklin Graham, will be leading a prayer rally in Liberty Plaza.

A vote from the full House could be taken as early as Thursday.