BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana is one of several states considering legislation framed as protecting religious liberty in light of last year's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.
The Louisiana version of the bill, called the Pastor Protection Act, is sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, who proposed last year's controversial Marriage and Conscience Act.
"What we're seeing is kind of a restriction of religious liberty in the wake of the same-sex marriage ruling," Johnson said. "Everybody agrees that religious liberty is important to protect, that's what the bill does and that's what we're about."
Under the proposed legislation, members of clergy could not face civil or criminal action from the state for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. That is something Johnson says has been a concern since last year.
"Because the Supreme Court has changed the law now on us suddenly last summer, I think it's an important constitutional principal to say that those who sincerely believe that in the heart should not have to go along with it just because five justices on the Supreme Court decided it," he said.
A similar bill served as the origin of a controversial "religious liberty" bill in Georgia. That bill, however, was expanded and altered in scope, ultimately
allowing faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their "sincerely held religious belief." It also allowed them to fire employees not in line with those beliefs.
Many companies, including Disney, Apple, and Time Warner urged the Georgia governor to veto the measure, which he did on Monday.
Johnson said his bill is "simple" and "limited" compared to the Georgia bill. However, many in the Louisiana LGBT community still have expressed concern that the text is too broad and could be interpreted loosely.
"Anyone who says it is just pastors and churches has not read the bill," said Matthew Patterson, managing director of Equality Louisiana, a gay-rights advocacy group.
As it stands, in addition to pastors, the bill protects organizations controlled or affiliated with religious groups.
"In Louisiana, an awful lot of our services providers like hospitals, food pantries, or homeless shelters have religious affiliations and they're providing necessary services to the community," he said. "If we're giving groups like that the ability to refuse service to people or refuse to recognize their legal relationships, that can actually do a lot of harm to LGBT people."
However, Patterson said that if the bill were to be limited in scope further to only apply to members of the clergy, it would be redundant.
"Nobody can make a pastor marry somebody they don't want to. The first amendment, federal civil rights laws, state level civil rights laws, all protect the rights of clergy not to do religious ceremonies that their religions say they can't do," he said.
A spokesman for the Edwards administration said in an email that the governor has "serious concerns" about the proposed bill in its current form and is worried that it is "much more broad than the title suggests."
The governor supports what the title says and wants the bill to reflect that, according to the spokesman.
Johnson has so far said he does not want to see the text altered.