Supporters say two senate bills would protect religious freedom in South Dakota. Opponents say they could lead to discrimination. If passed, the bills would offer legal protections for clergy, churches and businesses that refuse to provide marriage services for certain couples, including same sex couples. The bill’s prime sponsor, Republican Senator Ernie Otten said he is not trying to encourage intolerance.
"Well, to be quite frank, that a lot of folks are just intolerant of folks with conscience. I believe that has to be protected," Otten said.
Here are the definitions of the bills. Senate Bill 66: Provide immunity to clergy, lay officials, and religious organizations that decline to provide certain marriage services. Senate Bill 67: provide protection to certain businesses or persons that decline to provide certain wedding services or goods due to the free exercise of religion.
Several states have legalized same sex marriages last year, but not everyone agrees with the issue. Otten said individuals who support marriage between one man and one woman should not be penalized for sticking to their religious beliefs. Florists, photographers and bakeries have been sued all over the country, for refusing to do business with gay couples.
"I do not believe that it is right, as they've done in other states, where they target a florist or a photographer, and then principally sue them out of business. This is a freedom of religion and freedom of, actually, commerce. No shirt, no shoes, no service," Otten said.
Aberdeen mother of three Amy Dunlavy sees the issue differently.
"Why is something like this even on the table? There's nothing that prompted it. It's not necessary. In my opinion, all it does is encourage a climate of reasons to segregate people," Dunlavy said.
Hundreds of comments on our KELOLAND Facebook page criticize the proposed legislation. Some even question whether the bills would open the door for racial discrimination, since they do not clearly define the types of marriages which would be protected. Otten believes they do not challenge any national discrimination laws.
Dunlavy, a gay rights supporter, calls the bills unconstitutional. Though legislation may protect individuals from legal action, Dunlavy said there would still be penalties for businesses that refuse gay couples.
"People boycott those businesses. That's how we speak our minds. People can express their views and their opinions with their wallets," Dunlavy said.