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US Senate Endangers First Amendment Rights with Passage of So-Called Respect for Marriage Act

On Tuesday, the US Senate passed the deceptively named Respect for Marriage Act, with all 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.  

Now, all that’s left before the act can be signed into law is for the House to cast its final vote. The lower chamber already approved the legislation in July, and it is likely to do so again. 

If signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act would require federal recognition not only of same-sex marriage, but any one state’s definition of marriage without any parameters. This means plural marriages, time-bound marriages, polygamy, open marriages, marriages involving a minor or relative, platonic marriages, or any other new definition of marriage could be recognized federally.

The bill also authorizes activist groups to take legal action against religious individuals, organizations, and businesses that operate in accordance with their sincerely held religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Not only does it undermine the nuclear family and religious liberty, but it would also strip children of their most basic right to a father and mother.

Many conservatives are rightfully concerned that the bill does not include sufficient religious liberty protections. The bill includes an amendment that stipulates that the legislation cannot be used to “diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or Federal law.”

However, Americans need much stronger religious liberty protections, as Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Ryan Bangert has pointed out. He issued the following statement on Tuesday: 

“This dangerously cynical and completely unnecessary bill is a direct attack on the First Amendment. It does nothing to change the legal status of same-sex marriage anywhere. But it undermines religious freedom everywhere and exposes Americans throughout the country to predatory lawsuits by activists seeking to use the threat of litigation to silence debate and exclude people of faith from the public square. Today, the Senate has chosen to disregard legitimate concerns about the undeniable harms of this bill. If the Senate truly cared about protecting religious freedom, it would have included comprehensive amendments proposed by Sens. Lee, Rubio, and Lankford. ADF remains committed to ensuring the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans and to defending those who will likely be targeted because of this legislation.”

As Bangert mentions, Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee raised multiple concerns about the likelihood of the Respect for Marriage Act infringing upon religious liberty. He urged Democrats and Republicans to come to an agreement on an amendment that would explicitly prohibit the federal government from discriminating on any viewpoint of marriage, yet his commonsense amendment failed. 

In fact, three different amendments to protect religious liberty each failed. As Albert Mohler explained:

“Three different Republican senators in the course of the Senate’s deliberation yesterday brought proposed amendments that would more clearly protect religious liberty. And every single one of them was voted down. And if the Senate voted them down, then the Senate doesn’t want to say what those amendments would have said. Now, there are those who say, “Well, the Senate had worked out a compromise. It’s a bit late to undo that compromise.” Well, the compromise is wrong, and so what we have here is the Senate voting down three different amendments that would have more clearly protected religious liberty, and that tells us what the intention actually is behind this bill.”

This bill cannot be signed into law without robust religious liberty protections for people of faith who maintain the true definition of marriage. It places a target on the backs of people of faith and opens the door to lawsuits that will infringe upon religious liberty. Please urge California House Representatives to vote no to this bill, or at the very least, demand more protections for the free exercise of religion. 


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