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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Signs Pastor Protection Act

AUSTIN, TX,  (LifeSiteNews) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation disallowing lawsuits against Christian pastors for refusing to marry homosexuals.

The new law states that clergy and religious organizations “may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief.”

The law is designed to protect church ministers who believe in natural marriage from legal coercion by homosexual pressure groups.

This legislation replaces a previous bill that would have protected business owners from being sued for refusing to facilitate homosexual “weddings.” That bill was quietly withdrawn following the gay outcry over a similar bill in Indiana.

Surrounded by clergy, the governor declared, “This is a day that recognizes their constitutional rights and their religious freedom to practice what they preach.”

“This nation was founded on religious freedom, and that freedom was enshrined in the First Amendment itself where it guarantees that no law will impede the free exercise of religion,” Gov. Abbot explained. “Any act to coerce anyone to violate their religious liberty violates the United States Constitution and violates Texas law.”

The new law states that a church or a minister’s refusal “marry” homosexuals “is not the basis for a civil or criminal” lawsuit. It specifically lists that the state may not withhold “tax exemptions, government contracts, grants, or licenses” from those who support natural marriage.

In their zeal to thwart the legislation, opponents offered sometimes contradictory reasons they wished stop the legislation.

Local media called it “extremist,” accusing the law of “restricting the impact of same-sex marriages in Texas.” WOAI News Radio called it “anti-gay” and implied that it was unfairly “speedily rushed through the State Senate.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, was quoted as saying the legislation “introduced Indiana-style discrimination to Texas.”

“Whatever rules the Senate suspended to bring this up, they should suspend again to bring it down,” Fischer complained. “I ask that all Texans and businesses who support equality to stand up and fight now.”

Meanwhile, Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Manny Garcia called the law “unnecessary,” because it merely reiterates “First Amendment rights.”

“SB 2065 is completely unnecessary legislation,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow wrote in a statement. “No pastor has been forced to perform any marriage outside of his or her religious beliefs and practices. This bill is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The law applies only to religious organizations, but opponents say if gay “marriage” is legalized by the Supreme Court, it should be the law for everybody – even if they have deep-seated religious objections to the new definition of marriage.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said, “If it’s a discriminatory act, then I don’t think they should be able to hide behind the First Amendment or hide behind their faith.”

The new law states it applies to religious organizations, or organizations supervised or connected to such organizations, as well as to religious employees.

Same-sex “marriage” is currently banned in Texas, but a challenge to that ban is pending in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on the constitutionality of homosexual “marriage” for the entire nation.

The new law took effect in the state immediately upon the governors signing on Thursday.