A divided Senate committee defeated a proposal to let church officials refuse to perform marriages they they object to Thursday morning.
After an hour of very personal testimony and debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to kill Senate Bill 66.
Opponents concluded that clergy already have the rights contained in the bill, and that it was unnecessary.
"I really don’t see the need for this," said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell. "I think it’s covered under current constitution and law."
Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, had brought the bill, citing examples in other states and countries where he said ministers had been prevented from opposing same-sex marriage.
"This matter of conscience must be protected from those who are intolerant of someone else’s deeply held religious views," Otten said.
Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls and a pastor, said he only performs opposite-sex marriages and believes the law should explicitly protect that choice.
"It is not because I hate anyone. It is not because there’s bigotry," Hickey said. "In fact, it’s because I deeply care about people, and because I’m deeply convinced for religious and science reason that traditional marriage is best for society."
Several socially conservative groups also backed the bill.
Dale Bartscher, executive director of the Family Heritage Alliance, said the spread of same-sex marriage will make the belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman “increasingly… characterized as an irrational prejudice that ought to be driven to the margins of culture.”
And all the opponents said they believe same-sex marriage is eventually coming to South Dakota.
"In other states we see it," Hickey said. "It’s just a matter of days. It’s very close to our state."
Another pastor, Methodist Karl Kroger of Piedmont, was the lone person to testify against the bill.
"I’m here primarily to give you the message that was predominantly given to people by the angels, and that was, do not be afraid," Kroger said. "We’re not being persecuted."
Kroger said ministers already have the freedom to refuse to perform marriages, even for reasons of racial prejudice.
"We have freedom of religion, and sometimes it allows us to do some things that people might question," Kroger said.
A majority of the committee agreed.
"Under these (constitutional) rights, no one is forced to do a marriage for any individual," said Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton. "I see this as a political statement."
Supporters agreed, but said it was a necessary statement.
"I certainly do agree that it is a (political) statement… to defend that traditional marriage between a man and a woman," said Sen. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City.
Afterwards, Otten said he didn’t see the vote as a “defeat.”
"I think that we opened a dialogue, and I think that is good for the state," Otten said. "I respect the senators greatly on the different viewpoints, and we’ll just see what tomorrow will bring. I don’t think this issue will go away."
But Otten said he’s not going to bring the issue back this year.
Before Thursday’s hearing, Otten withdrew a second bill that had provoked even more controversy. Senate Bill 67 would have given protection from providing services to objectionable marriages to any citizen, such as a wedding cake baker or a florist. He withdrew that bill after attorneys told him individuals already have that protection.