Lawmakers vote unanimously to approve bill protecting pastors who refuse to perform same-sex marriage in Georgia

Rep. Kevin Tanner says 'the Pastor Protection Act is a simple reaffirmation of our bedrock principle of separation of church and state.'(Facebook/Kevin Tanner for State House)

The House of Representatives in the U.S. state of Georgia unanimously passed a bill on Feb. 11 that protects the clergy from any punishment if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage.

H.B. 757, introduced by Republican Rep. Kevin Tanner, was unanimously passed 161-0 by both Republicans and Democrats.

The Pastor Protection Act mandates that "no minister of the gospel or cleric or religious practitioner ordained or authorised to solemnise marriages, perform rites, or administer sacraments according to the usages of the denomination, when acting in his or her official religious capacity, shall be required to solemnise any marriage, perform any rite or administer any sacrament in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion under the Constitution of this state or the United States," according to Christian News Network.

Religious organisation, as defined by the bill, refers to churches, religious schools and association or convention of churches.

Tanner said "the Pastor Protection Act is a simple reaffirmation of our bedrock principle of separation of church and state."

"It makes clear that Georgia respects and honours the sacred oaths taken by our pastors, priests, rabbis and other clergy and that government has no intention of asking them to violate those oaths," he said.

The bill reaffirms the separation of church and state in Georgia.

It also protects churches, synagogues and other places of worship as well as religious organisations from being required by state or local government to host an event which violates their religious doctrine.

Businesses are also protected from any ordinance which might require them to be open on a day of rest on Saturday or Sunday.

As expected, LGBT groups denounced the bill as a "license to discriminate."

"It allows faith-based organisations to withhold services if they choose to do so," said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, in his testimony before the Georgia Senate. "I am especially concerned that this bill will have a chilling effect on the state's LGBT families."

"There's a global threat to religious liberty occurring," said Dr. Daniel Ausbun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Moreland in a column published in the Newnan Times-Herald. "Religious liberty is the freedom to believe and practice your faith apart from government interference."