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Tennessee governor signs law allowing public officials to decline to perform marriages they disagree with

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill Wednesday that allows public employees to refuse to marry based on “conscience or religious beliefs.”

The bill, known as SB 596 – HB 878, states that “a marriage need not be solemnized if a person objects to the solemnization of the marriage based on conscience or religious belief.”

LGBTQ activists interpreted the bill to mean that public servants could refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but Republican Rep. Monty Fritz, one of the bill’s lead sponsors in the state Legislature, said the bill was He said it could also help fight elder abuse. There, young people may marry someone for access to financial accounts, The Hill reported.

Republican Sen. Mark Pody, one of the bill’s lead sponsors in the Tennessee Senate, argued last week that the bill “has nothing to do with certification.”

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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee joins Texas Governor Greg Abbott and others at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, Sunday, February 4, 2024. Mr Lee signed into law on Wednesday a law on the duties of officials when performing marriages. (Raquel Natalichio/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

In a memo last March, when the bill first passed the state Legislature, Krista Lee Kerzner, executive director of the Tennessee Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, said the bill would “significantly reduce the number of marriages solemnized.” It is not expected to have any impact.” The financial impact on state and local governments is not estimated to be significant, as there is no impact on the number of marriage licenses issued in Tennessee. ”

The bill was approved by the state House last week and sent to the governor’s desk. Lee, a Republican, signed the bill on Wednesday, according to the state Legislature’s website.

Lee has not yet publicly commented on the bill’s signing. Fox News Digital reached out to the governor’s office for comment Thursday.

tennessee state legislature

Gun reform activists pray as they surround the Tennessee State Capitol building ahead of a special legislative session in Nashville on August 21, 2023. Lee called for a special legislative session on public safety in response to the public outcry following the Covenant School shooting that left three children and three teachers dead. (John Cherry/Getty Images)

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Under the law, public officials cannot deny marriage licenses to couples based on religious beliefs. The law says public officials, including county clerks, cannot be required to perform formal wedding ceremonies.

The bill passed the state Legislature in March 2023, but days earlier the General Assembly decided to postpone consideration of the bill until 2024, The Hill reported.

Gun reform activists surround Tennessee statehouse

Gun reform activists outside the state Capitol building in Nashville on August 21, 2023. (John Cherry/Getty Images)

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Last week, Molly Whitehorn, deputy regional campaigns director for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, denounced the bill, saying it would “take away LGBTQ+ people from equal protection under the law,” according to The Hill. “It’s meant to exclude people.”

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