- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Pastors could refuse to wed same-sex couples and churches and religious-based organizations could bar them from holding ceremonies and receptions at their facilities under a bill the Florida House passed overwhelmingly Wednesday.

The measure passed on an 82-37 vote.

Opponents said the so-called pastor-protection bill isn’t necessary because the U.S. Constitution already allows churches to refuse to wed any couple, regardless of whether they are gay. They said the bill was instead a political statement that discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Democratic Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa, whose father is a pastor, asked his colleagues, “What would Jesus do?”

“It goes against everything a pastor is charged to do. Jesus walked with the downtrodden, those rejected and outcast by society, people who were told that they were less than, and here we are today acting like the Pharisees of old: professing to love God but acting in a manner that doesn’t reflect him,” he said. “This bill isn’t about protecting pastors and it isn’t about loving our neighbors. It’s a mean-spirited jab at the LGBT community that is built on unfounded fears.”

Republican Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood said his bill (HB 43) is needed to protect pastors from possible societal changes in the future.

“Why not offer protection to pastors and other religious practitioners that have a real concern about the trajectory of public policy in this area?” Plakon asked. “Is it necessary? My answer would be … ‘I hope not.’”

The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans in favor and most Democrats opposed.

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said people with strong religious beliefs, not gays and lesbians, are the ones under attack.

“There is a persecuted class here. There is a discrimination. There is a war, a battle, an assault going on, on the traditional family,” Baxley said, adding that those who don’t think the bill is necessary are “living under a rock.”

“If there’s anybody under assault and discrimination, I’ll tell you who it is: It’s anyone who holds a biblical world view,” Baxley said. “We’re called haters.”

A similar bill (SB 110) is ready for a Senate vote as soon as Thursday.

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