Alabama’s only openly gay legislator objects to ‘religious freedom’ marriage bill

Michael Walsh
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, discusses a bill on the House floor at the state House on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/The Montgomery Advertiser, Amanda Sowards) NO SALES

The Alabama House passed a bill Thursday that gives wedding officiants the freedom to refuse their services to same-sex couples — a right they already have.

Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the state’s only openly gay legislator, spoke out against the bill during a four-hour debate leading up to the vote.

“Alabama isn’t exactly the most progressive state in the country. We are constantly the laughingstock of the country, and this continues that tradition,” Todd said in an interview with Yahoo News on Friday morning.

Many supporters of gay marriage say House Bill 56, or the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act, permits discrimination against homosexuals under the guise of religious freedom.

But, Todd says, under the First Amendment, pastors and probate judges already have the legal right to officiate — or not — any wedding they choose.

“The reality is this was just pandering to their constituents so they could say they stood up on same-sex marriage when it didn’t do anything,” she said.

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, said he sponsored the legislation, which passed 69 to 25, after hearing that judges and religious figures feared they would be forced by law to go against their spiritual beliefs, AL.com reported.

Moody, a freshman legislator, repeatedly told the house that he simply wanted to “clarify” the existing laws on the books.

When asked if the bill echoes the legal discrimination African-Americans faced, Todd said she does not want to draw comparisons between the struggles because there are salient differences, such as the economic oppression of blacks.

“However, there is a comparison in how Alabama handles these civil rights issues, and we seem to always be on the wrong side of history,” she said.

After the bill passed, Todd said, almost every Republican walked over to her and apologized for voting for it but said they had to in order to please their voters.

“That’s the problem with a lot of elected people. They care more about keeping their seats than doing the right things,” she said.

Ross Murray, director of programs for GLAAD, said religious freedom is important – but so is the rule of law.

“Bills like this end up being very dangerous and not just for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community but for several communities in Alabama,” Murray told Yahoo News. “This has the possibility of having someone not have the goods and services they need just to live their everyday lives.”

Hill was not immediately available for comment when Yahoo contacted his office.

The bill will now move to the Senate.