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California passes law strengthening religious freedom for clergy

SACRAMENTO -- The California Assembly on Thursday passed the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906) in a 46-25 vote.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and co-sponsored by Equality California and California Council of Churches IMPACT, protects clergy from performing any civil marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his or her faith.

The bill also protects religious institutions from losing their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform any civil marriage, and deepens the distinction in state law between religious and civil marriage by defining the latter as a civil contract that requires a state-issued marriage license.

“Opponents of marriage equality have falsely claimed that allowing same-sex couples to marry will force clergy to violate the tenets of their faiths,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “This bill should alleviate any concerns that restoring marriage equality will require clergy to perform weddings inconsistent with their faith.”

“This bill simply affirms that California is a diverse state, and that we can all co-exist and make space for each others’ beliefs without compromising the tenets of any religious group or individual,” Leno said.

“With the recent federal court ruling, we know that marriage for same-sex couples in California is on the horizon. Under the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, churches and clergy members who fear their religious views are threatened by marriage equality will have clear and solid protections under state law. In addition, churches that welcome same-sex couples will continue to fully recognize those families within their faith.”

SB 906 now returns to the Senate floor for a concurrence vote before heading to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.