Senate bills shield those who shun same-sex marriage - KOTA Territory News

Senate bills shield those who shun same-sex marriage

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By Jack Siebold, MyTown Editor

Several South Dakota lawmakers want to shield people (business as well as clergy) who balk at being involved in same-sex weddings.

Now, considering that voters in 2006 adopted a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, you have to wonder why these bills are even necessary.  Of course, recent federal court rulings have been striking down (and sometimes supporting) other states' bans on same-sex marriages. 

Senate Bill 66, if approved, would "provide immunity to clergy, lay officials and religious organizations that decline to provide certain marriage services."   The bill states that South Dakota has an interest in "protecting the free exercise of religion," and that no civil or criminal charges can be taken by the state against a religious organization or minister who refuses to be part of a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Senate Bill 67 goes even further, providing "protection to certain businesses or persons that decline to provide certain wedding services or goods due to the free exercise of religion."  While the bill's wording states certain businesses, it in fact would shield all businesses in the state from civil actions if the owners (citing their personal religious beliefs) refuse service for same-sex wedding ceremonies and celebrations.   Furthermore, the last section of the bill states that anyone who files a civil action against the business or the owner could be fined.

MyTown has asked the bills' sponsor, Senator Ernie Otten (R-District 6), why these bills are even needed.  We also asked the Black Hills Center for Equality (a gay rights group in Rapid City) for its reaction to the bills.  We will update this story when both parties get back with us.

Both bills were referred to the state Senate judiciary committee but no hearing dates have been scheduled as of Tuesday.

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