(Photo: Office of Steve Montenegro)
When the Ariz. House of Representatives convenes its first session of 2014 on Monday, Rep. Steve Montenegro intends to propose legislation that would allow pastors, clergy and rabbis to opt-out of performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The current Speaker Pro Tempore, Montenegro said that his work in ministry and conversations with different religious leaders in Ariz. influenced him to introduce the state's First Freedom Act.
"I grew up in the church and I have been involved with church activity and been a youth pastor," the El Salvadorian-born legislator, who received a degree in Theology from CBAN and the Logos Christian University told The Christian Post. "When this [proposal] was brought to my attention it was something I had already been thinking about, experiencing in thought and also in conversation with other pastors and ministers."
Part of the worry that these leaders and Montenegro had identified was an overaggressive federal court that would impose its "interpretation of what of our state constitution, our freedoms, our rights that we are afforded are."
Arizona has banned same-sex marriage since 1996 when the legislature passed a law against it. In 2008, voters passed Proposition 102 by 56 percent of the vote, which defined marriage solely as a union between one man and one woman.
However, last Monday four same-sex couples filed a class-action lawsuit, arguing that the federal court must declare Arizona's 1996 same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor. In the case, the nation's highest court argued that it was unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to same-sex couples who were legally married.
Montenegro emphasized the importance of the legislature working proactively to "protect" religious groups, in the event that a court change the state's marriage laws later this year or in the future.
"A lot of people are saying 'nobody is forcing pastors to do anything' … but as a legislator it's my responsibility to see what's happening in the state, see where we are going and what our vision is as we're looking ahead," Montenegro said.
The representative also said if no legal exemptions were made, if sexual orientation became legally protected at the municipal, county and state level, religious leaders could be accused of breaking the law if they did not perform same-sex weddings.
"And what happens to the pastor's marriage license or credential if he does not adhere to the state law or constitution?" said Montenegro. "These are things in the future that we need to set as protection now."