On the first day lawmakers could file legislation in Virginia, Delegate Chris Head filed House Bill 19, a bill that would clarify that people authorized to perform marriage ceremonies may not be required to do so. Del. Head, a former pastor, explained that “[t]he purpose of this bill is simply to absolutely clarify that pastors of churches shouldn’t be compelled to perform a ceremony that violates the tenets of their religion; nothing more.”
As a former pastor. Del. Head should know that the rights of pastors and all clergy members are already protected by the First Amendment. Clergy members have always been free to decide which marriage ceremonies to perform and which marriages to recognize as sanctified by their faith. It is unlikely that Del. Head was ever forced to perform a marriage with which he disagreed as a pastor. Bills like House Bill 19, referred to as “pastor protection” bills, are popping up all over the country as a result of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, however, did not impact the rights of clergy members. In fact, the Roanoke Times reports that “[t]here have been no reports in Virginia of clergy being pushed to perform marriages since last year’s federal court ruling.” And there will continue to be no such reports – even without this bill.