(Reuters) - Oklahoma state representatives voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to advance a bill that would provide immunity from lawsuits to clergy who refuse to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.
The bill, approved by 88-7 in the state House of Representatives, would protect clergy members from any civil claim or cause of action if they refuse to preside over or recognize a marriage of same-sex couples because of their conscience or religious beliefs. The measure next goes to the state Senate for consideration.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative David Brumbaugh, said many pastors asked for the legislation after a federal judge overturned Oklahoma’s ban on gay marriage in January 2014.
The ministers are concerned about being sued under public accommodation laws if they turn away same-sex couples who want to marry, he said.
“It’s not about discrimination or anything like that, it’s just that we want to make sure they were protected,” Brumbaugh said.
Brumbaugh said he was not sure if any states had approved similar bills.
The bill is one of several proposals before the Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature intended to protect the interests of people who object to the lifting of the gay marriage ban.
Gay rights supporters have said they would challenge the proposed measures in court if they become law.
Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by David Bailey and Peter Cooney