Written by Gregory S. Baylor |
Thursday, November 17, 2022
The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in July and quickly pushed through the U.S. House of Representatives without any public hearings, enabling its proponents to mischaracterize the bill as a simple codification of Obergefell. Let’s be clear: the Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary and could have a disastrous effect on religious freedom.
As soon as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, activists went to work mischaracterizing the ruling.
Many used the decision—and particularly Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence—to claim that the Court could revisit other rulings, including the one in Obergefell v. Hodges, which created a constitutional “right” to same-sex marriage.
Using this feigned outrage as a cover, these activists pushed for a federal law called the Respect for Marriage Act.
The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in July and quickly pushed through the U.S. House of Representatives without any public hearings, enabling its proponents to mischaracterize the bill as a simple codification of Obergefell.
Let’s be clear: the Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary and could have a disastrous effect on religious freedom.
What is the Respect for Marriage Act?
The so-called Respect for Marriage Act is a misnamed bill that expands not only what marriage means, but also who can be sued for disagreeing with the new meaning of marriage.
While proponents of the bill claim that it simply codifies the 2015 Obergefell decision, in reality it is an intentional attack on the religious freedom of millions of Americans with sincerely held beliefs about marriage.
The Respect for Marriage Act threatens religious freedom and the institution of marriage in multiple ways:
- It further embeds a false definition of marriage in the American legal fabric.
- It opens the door to federal recognition of polygamous relationships.
- It jeopardizes the tax-exempt status of nonprofits that exercise their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
- It endangers faith-based social-service organizations by threatening litigation and liability risk if they follow their views on marriage when working with the government.
The truth is the Respect for Marriage Act does nothing to change the status of same-sex marriage or the benefits afforded to same-sex couples following Obergefell. It does much, however, to endanger religious freedom.
Has the Respect for Marriage Act passed Congress?
On July 19, 2022, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act. The vote caught many by surprise: not only did it happen quickly—just one day after the bill was introduced—but a surprising 47 Republicans, many of whom likely did not appreciate the threat it posed to religious liberty, voted in favor of the bill.
As the bill moved over to the U.S. Senate, a strong coalition of religious organizations voiced concerns and urged the Senate to slow down and take time to consider its true consequences.
An alliance of over 80 groups sent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a letter urging him to stand firm against pressures to move the bill forward, and over 2,000 churches and ministries sent a letter to the Senate specifically calling attention to the effects of the bill on their ability to serve their communities in accordance with their religious beliefs. ADF organized and led both of these initiatives.
These efforts are working.
After the Respect for Marriage Act sped through the House, the Senate has delayed consideration of the bill so senators can better understand the harms it will cause to countless Americans. While many have voiced total opposition to the bill, a small group of senators from both parties, led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Susan Collins of Maine, are attempting to amend the bill to address the concerns that have been raised.
Unfortunately, their proposed amendment does not adequately address the bill’s significant religious freedom issues.
What would the proposed amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act do?
While these senators seem to acknowledge the objections to the Respect for Marriage Act, their amendment fails to address the bill’s problems in a substantive way.
Here are the major issues with this amendment:
- There are no real protections for religious individuals or organizations.
The amendment adds a new section to the Respect for Marriage Act that purports to address religious liberty and conscience concerns.
But rather than adding any new concrete protections for religious individuals and organizations threatened by the Respect for Marriage Act, the new section simply states that those Americans whose beliefs are infringed can invoke already existing legal protections, like the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). As such, this new provision does not fix the bill’s negative impact on religious exercise and freedom of conscience. Those targeted under the bill will be forced to spend years in litigation and thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees to protect their rights.
- The amendment leaves numerous religious social-service organizations vulnerable.
The proposed amendment adds language that confirms that churches and religious organizations would not be forced to solemnize or celebrate a marriage against their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, this proposed provision ignores the true threats to religious organizations. No one thinks the Respect for Marriage Act requires churches to solemnize marriages.
The real problem is that the bill can be used to punish social-service organizations like adoption or foster placement agencies that serve their communities in accordance with their religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The proposed amendment does nothing to help such organizations.
- The amendment fails to address concerns over nonprofits’ tax-exempt status.
The amendment adds a new section that attempts to address concerns about the tax-exempt status of nonprofits that live out their beliefs about marriage.
Once again, the amendment fails to substantively remedy this problem. When the IRS determines whether an organization is “charitable” under the Internal Revenue Code, it asks whether the entity’s conduct is “contrary to public policy” or violates a “national policy.”
If the Respect for Marriage Act were enacted, the IRS could rely upon the bill to conclude that certain nonprofits are not “charitable.” The amendment’s new provision does nothing to prevent this.
Unfortunately, the proposed amendment utterly fails to meaningfully address the serious religious freedom problems with the Respect for Marriage Act. The inclusion of provisions that purport to address religious freedom concerns may be a sign that senators heard the criticisms of the bill, but the hollow nature of the amendment demonstrates they do not understand the depth of the concerns being raised.
How can I advocate for marriage and religious freedom?
Alliance Defending Freedom is working hard to take a stand for marriage by opposing this bill, but it is imperative that senators hear from their constituents about the threat to religious liberty and the institution of marriage that the Respect for Marriage Act represents—even if amended.
We need the Senate to hear from you.
The Senate is expected to vote on the Respect for Marriage Act before the end of the year. Call your two senators and ask them to vote NO on the Respect for Marriage Act. You can find your senators’ phone numbers on this page by clicking on your state.
When you call them, remind them about the three main problems with the bill:
- It empowers the government to punish tens of millions of Americans who wish to live according to their deeply held beliefs.
- It exposes religious individuals and organizations to predatory lawsuits.
- It could weaponize the IRS against faith-based organizations by threatening their nonprofit status.
Every phone call to a senator helps. The Respect for Marriage Act has little to do with protecting rights—quite the opposite. Its text betrays an intent to stigmatize and take rights away, especially from people of faith.
Tell your senator to stand firm against these blatant attacks on religious freedom and the institution of marriage.