Ga. House Overwhelmingly Passes 'Pastor Protection Act'

Feb 11, 2016

The Georgia House of Representatives Thursday passed, in a 161-0 vote, a bill known as the “Pastor Protection Act,” to reassure clergy they will not be forced to perform same-sex weddings. The vote is unlikely to end debate over as many as nine other bills meant to expand religious freedom that are currently pending in the Georgia legislature.

In a rare speech before the chamber, House Speaker David Ralston called for lawmakers to come together.

“It is my hope on an issue of this importance, and charged with such deep emotion, that this bill can be the first productive discussion,” he said.

While most of the representatives commenting on the bill before Ralston quoted scripture, the Speaker choose to quote Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 speech to the Illinois legislature.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Ralston said.

He continued, “I sometimes find myself worrying that the idea of focusing on that which unites us, instead of that which divides us, is becoming old-fashioned.”

Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrolton, did not vote on the bill, and he called for more expansive legislation minutes before it passed.

“I believe it’s our responsibility this morning to protect all Georgians, and I don’t believe the bill goes all the way to protect those goals,” Cooke said.

As Republican Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth voiced his support for the “Pastor Protection Act,” he also called for more expansive action. Setzler is the sponsor of one of a number of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts pending in the legislature.

“I’m concerned that if we stop here, and don’t go further we’ve not done our duty,” he said to the members of the House. "Follow me today in support HB 757 to start the process in protecting the faithful."

The bill now moves to the Senate. Even before it passed the House, Sen. Josh McKoon. the sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the center of controversy last year, spoke out against the "Pastor Protection Act."

“It’s a political protection act,” McKoon said in the Senate.  

When asked about McKoon's statement, Ralston said he didn't want to comment.