Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, speaks alongside Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, June 24, 2021, at the White House in Washington. The trio are among a group of five senators who worked on updating the Respect for Marriage Act. (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press)
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SALT LAKE CITY — A same-sex marriage bill awaiting action in the Senate has gotten a religious freedom-focused makeover from a bipartisan group of senators, according to Politico.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., worked together to try to quiet fears that the Respect for Marriage Act would harm people of faith who object to same-sex marriage.
The group “worked with their Senate colleagues and stakeholders to develop an amendment to the House-passed bill to confirm that the bill will not lead to the recognition of polygamous unions and has no negative impact on religious liberty and conscience protections,” explains a fact sheet on the updated bill provided by Politico.
Like the original version of the Respect for Marriage Act, the new bill aims to ensure federal recognition of same-sex marriages that take place in states where such unions are legal. But it would do so while explicitly protecting people of faith and faith-based nonprofits.
“The amendment protects all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law, including but not limited to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and prevents this bill from being used to diminish or repeal any such protection,” the fact sheet says.
The original bill’s potential effects on religious communities emerged as a key obstacle to its passage earlier this year. Republican leaders in Congress and religious leaders outside Congress questioned whether the Respect for Marriage Act would do more harm than good.
“The consequences for religious liberty in this bill are serious,” wrote David Closson, director of Family Research Council’s Center for Biblical Worldview in July, noting that people of faith who define marriage as between one man and one woman already face intense pushback for their beliefs.
Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both Republicans, have expressed public support for efforts to protect religious freedom. They are among those working to address these faith-related concerns, as the Deseret News previously reported.
Romney has said he will support the bill if the religious freedom amendment is in the final version. “If that amendment is attached to the bill, I’ll vote for it,” he told The Hill.
If that amendment is attached to the bill, I’ll vote for it.
–Sen. Mitt Romney
Lee told the Deseret News that he has lingering religion-related concerns that he’s working to address.
“Any potential threat to religious liberty must be met with a thorough and thoughtful defense. Current law, coupled with “The Respect for Marriage Act,” leaves certain religious organizations, educational institutions and individual exercise of religious beliefs more vulnerable to attack. I am actively working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to shore up those vulnerabilities,” Lee said.
Any potential threat to religious liberty must be met with a thorough and thoughtful defense.
–Sen. Mike Lee
The updated version of the Respect for Marriage Act will likely be voted on in the Senate on Wednesday, The Hill reported.
“Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., filed cloture on the legislation on Monday, teeing up the first vote,” the article said.
Church of Jesus Christ expresses bill support
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is among the religious organizations that have expressed support for the compromise version of the bill.
“The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged. We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We believe this approach is the way forward. As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding,” the church said in a statement.
Leaders from the Orthodox Union, an Orthodox Jewish organization, shared similar sentiments in their own statement.
“Judaism is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable. At the same time, Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals. Our hope is that the Respect for Marriage Act will expand civil rights for LGBT Americans while at the same time protecting principles of religious liberty and diversity which are central to our constitution,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.
The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of Interfaith Alliance, tweeted that people of faith should be calling their senators to encourage support for the Respect for Marriage Act.
“The most important news in Washington, D.C. is … that the families of millions of Americans — including mine — will be protected by the Respect for Marriage Act when the Senate votes yes!” he said.
Other religious organizations and faith leaders remain concerned about the bill’s potential effects on people of faith.
“The ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ would deal a devastating blow to religious freedom in America, even if it included proposed amendments that purport to protect religious freedom, but in fact do not. It represents a dangerous authoritarian turn by Congress and the administration that would extend the power of government well beyond its constitutional role and harm the fundamental freedoms of all Americans,” the Religious Freedom Institute said in a statement.
The Family Research Council also released a new statement criticizing the bill.
“We are being told that Democrats may try to rush through one of the most deceptively-named bills that will declare open-season on Bible-believing Christians and religious organizations that still believe in one-man, one-woman marriage,” wrote Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in an email to his supporters.
Contributing: Tad Walch