South Dakota considering religious freedom bill


Both South Dakota and Kansas have put forward bills that would give people “license to discriminate,” allowing people to use the grounds of religious belief to refuse service to same-sex couples.

South Dakota State Senator Ernie Otten has introduced two bills to the legislature which, if passed, would allow church officials and businesses to refuse wedding services to same-sex couples if it interferes with their religious belief.

Otten has had substantial support from Republican Sioux Falls Church Pastor Steve Hickey in favor of the legislation.

Even though marriage equality is not yet legal in South Dakota, Otten claims he put forward his bill in case the ban was overturned, like in other states.

Senate Bill 67 states:

No person or any personal business may be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, or treat any marriage as valid for any purpose if such action would cause any such person or personal business to violate the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

The bill, vaguely and generically proposed, suggests that not only same-sex couples but also interracial or interfaith couples amongst others could also be discriminated against.

The bill could also allow adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples or any other individuals who directly offend their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Member of Equality South Dakota Don Frankenfeld pointed out that due to the separation of church and state, clergy members are already allowed to decline performing same-sex marriages.

However, according to Black Hills Pioneer, Steve Hickey has claimed the bills are both tolerant of gay people and accommodating to religious entities.

He added, “Religious rights need to continue to trump gay rights. Otherwise, we’re heading down the road of Iran, where it’s convert or die, be quiet or die,” Hickey said. “If we want to talk about church and state, this is a bill that keeps the state out of my church.”

Otten’s legislature lacks specifics, whereas the introduction of the religious freedom bill in Kansas shows a far more detailed proposition.

House Bill 2453 allows any religious entity or individual to deny service to individuals if their lifestyle, “regarding sex or gender,” is contrary to the server’s religious belief.

The bill then gives three descriptive examples of services they can deny:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;

(b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or

(c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.

Currently, neither Kansas nor South Dakota has marriage equality.


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