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Bill would restrict judges, county clerks from performing marriages

Posted at 10:49 PM, Jun 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-22 22:49:34-04

MICHIGAN -- With a decision on same-sex marriage from the U.S. Supreme Court expected before the end of the month, one state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would require all marriages in the state be performed and signed by a religious leader.

Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, introduced bills in the House prohibiting government officials from officiating marriages.

“This is Michigan trying to--and what we’re trying to do as representatives is--give people some  kind of voice instead of just having that decision come down and we’re left with ‘what does that mean,'" said Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, who co-sponsored the bill.

“My concern is that following the ruling there are going to be people in Michigan who could be forced to violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs."

Under House Bills 4731, 4732 and 4733, the responsibility for issuing marriage licenses would still fall on the government, however municipal officials or judges would not be able to perform a wedding ceremony. The bills protect public officials from being forced to perform same-sex marriages and are in direct response to the pending Supreme Court decision which could overturn same-sex marriage bans, Gamrat said.

Advocates for marriage equality have been quick to call the proposed legislation blatant forms of discrimination.

“If the intent behind it wasn’t so mean-spirited and bigoted it would be comical," said Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids. "But it’s a bill I think most Republicans would be ashamed of.”

Dillon said he doesn't believe the bill will have a chance of making it through the legislature. Given recent poll numbers showing a growing majority support for same-sex marriage in Michigan, Dillon said the bills represent a small and out-of-touch minority.

“It must be sad to be the sponsor of this bill and watching society progressing in a such a way while your views are stuck in an era that’s probably more suited to the Middle Ages," he said.

Courser took to his blog Monday to address the growing backlash online against his bills.

"These bills do not in any way prohibit gay, atheist or any other type of marriage - on the contrary under my proposed legislation, I assume there will be lots of clergy who will be willing to 'marry' gay and atheist couples," he wrote.

"If the couple does not want to have a religious wedding then they are free to simply file an affidavit attesting that they are married. They can do this without ever having to have a ceremony."

Gamrat said she and Courser are also working on legislation that would ensure religious leaders would not be forced to perform marriages which go against their beliefs.

The bills have been referred to a House committee but have not been brought up for debate or a vote.