AZ lawmaker: Ministers should not be forced to perform same-sex marriages

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Even as a class-action lawsuit to legalize same-sex marriage in Arizona makes its way through the courts, a state lawmaker -- who is also a pastor -- wants to protect the First Amendment rights of those who perform marriage ceremonies.

Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) this month unveiled legislation he calls Arizona's First Freedom Act.

Designed to protect the religious freedom of religious officials and churches, the bill means nobody would be forced to oversee a marriage ceremony that runs counter to his or her "sincerely held religious beliefs."

“There are a number of churches and ministers who have publicly campaigned for same-sex marriage and who have indicated a willingness to perform them," Montenegro said on "There is no need to force churches and their officials to participate, and Arizona’s First Freedom Act will ensure that those on the radical left will not be able to use same-sex marriage as a weapon against those churches whose teachings and beliefs are irreconcilably at odds with it."

The right to religious freedom is set out in the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…," it reads.

Montenegro, describing his bill as "simple and short," says that right needs to be protected -- for everyone. He admits, however, that there is no imminent mandate requiring ministers to preside over same-sex marriages.

Montenegro, who was elected in November 2008, is no stranger to issue of religion. He holds an associate of arts degree in theology from CBAN and Logos Christian University. He also serves serves as Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor at the Surprise Apostolic Assembly.

It's not clear what kind of support Montenegro's proposal has or when he will introduce it.

The Arizona Legislature will convene Monday with the hope of adjourning in early April.