SD Lawmakers Vote Down Bill to Give Clergy Exemption from Performing Gay Marriages

Lawmakers in South Dakota have voted down a bill meant to exempt clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages if the state ever legalizes gay marriage.

The South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee voted down Senate Bill 66 in a vote of four to three on Friday, killing one of two similar bills introduced by State Senator Ernie Otten.

A majority of the Committee concluded that S.B. 66 was unnecessary given preexisting law regarding marriage definition and religious liberty in the state, reported the Associated Press.

"Sen. Jean Hunhoff … voted against the bill, said she saw the measure as a 'political statement' that could have unintended consequences," reported AP.

"Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said he also voted against the measure because he doesn't think it's necessary."

Last week Otten introduced two bills meant to protect clergy and businessmen from being forced to host, service, or officiate same-sex marriages. S.B. 66 focused on clergy while Senate Bill 67 focused on businesses.

"No member of the clergy nor lay official of any church or religion may be required to solemnize any marriage, provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, or treat any marriage as valid for any purpose if such action would cause any such entity or individual to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs," read SB 66 in part.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in South Dakota. In 2006, voters passed Amendment C, which added an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The proposed bills came as a few highly publicized lawsuits by same-sex couples against companies refusing to provide various services for gay marriage ceremonies are processed in other states.

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the defeat of the bill as legislators experiencing an "outbreak of common sense."

"Otten seemed concerned that someday in the future same-sex marriage might come to South Dakota, and clergy would be forced to marry gay couples - and perhaps even be sued if they refuse," wrote Boston.

"The fact that this hasn't happened in any state where same-sex marriage is legal failed to deter Otten."

The other bill, SB 67 may meet a similar fate as has reported that on Friday it was "Withdrawn at the Request of the Prime Sponsor."

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