Senate takes up bill to codify Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling.
A leading American cardinal has warned that if Congress passes a bill to codify same-sex marriage, the religious freedom of Americans will be severely harmed.
“If things continue along the path they’re moving, Congress could be on the verge of suppressing faithful witness to long-standing beliefs about marriage and the family,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote on Wednesday, as the U.S. Senate prepared to take a preliminary vote on the “Respect for Marriage Act.”
The bill would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that affirmed, for federal purposes, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and allowed states to refuse to recognize “same-sex marriages” granted under the laws of other states.
Wednesday afternoon, the Senate voted 62-37 to break a Republican filibuster against HR 8404, the Respect for Marriage Act. Twelve Republicans helped the Democrats reach the 60-vote threshold.
Reuters noted that there are about 568,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The fact that public support for same-sex marriage has increased in American society, Cardinal Dolan wrote, will not deter people of faith from “bearing witness to the beautiful, timeless truths about marriage, rooted in both faith and reason: men and women are complementary; every child deserves a mother and a father; and marriage is a permanent and exclusive union, open to the transmission of human life, and an exercise in loving sacrifice that transcends the mere self.”
He made his remarks on the “First Freedom Blog” on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan is chairman of the Conference’s Committee for Religious Liberty.
“The institution of marriage, properly understood as naturally ordered towards bearing and caring for children, is unique for a reason,” Dolan wrote. “It has special suitability to foster stability and the success of each new generation, all of which warrants special recognition. We will never shy away from proclaiming this truth.”
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the RMA in July, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022, ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.
In his concurrence with the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas opined that he and his colleagues ought to reexamine the high court’s “substantive due process” reasoning in decisions ranging from Griswold v. Connecticut, which established a “right to privacy” in regards to a married couple’s use of contraceptives, to Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 decriminalized sodomy, to Obergefell v. Hodges, which green-lighted same-sex marriage nationwide.
“We must bake the cake”
But, in his blog post on Wednesday, Dolan disagreed that the Court’s ruling in Dobbs threatens the right established in Obergefell. The real threat is against the basic American right to religious liberty, he said.
“Now, with no legal restrictions on the freedom to have a same-sex relationship, many seek to go a step further and force private parties — religious organizations, individuals of faith — to approve and support those relationships by our own words and conduct,” the cardinal wrote, referring to a number of recent examples where people of conscience were being forced into participating in some way in a same-sex union, against their beliefs. “We must bake the wedding cake, design the wedding website, rent the halls, and arrange the flowers — and afterwards, pay spousal benefits, place foster and adoptive children — even if it violates our deepest convictions about marriage and family.”
The cardinal charged that the Respect for Marriage Act “seeks to shunt our idea of marriage aside. We who hold to these time-honored convictions would be voices in the wilderness, increasingly marginalized and dismissed in the face of Congress’s endorsement of same-sex civil marriages as the national norm. It would be an act of courage just to proclaim the wisdom of ages.”
In order to get more Republicans in the Senate to back the RMA, there have been some religious freedom amendments added to the bill. Dolan called those attempts “feeble” and an attempt to “preserve the status quo in the relationship between religious freedom and same-sex civil marriages — but the amendment fails even in that meager goal. For those who continue to believe in and offer support for the traditional model of marriage, the status quo is not acceptable. What message does choosing to preserve it send to the public?”
Rather the bill’s harms would be far-reaching, Dolan charged. “In any conflict with same-sex civil marriage and the rights that flow from it, it will be said that Congress took pains to codify Obergefell, but not to protect the freedoms of speech and religion that Obergefell harms, making them second-class rights,” he wrote. “The bill will be a new arrow in the quiver of those who wish to deny religious organizations’ liberty to freely exercise their religious duties, strip them of their tax exemptions, or exclude them from full participation in the public arena. This failure to afford space in the public square for those who offer an authentic witness about marriage dishonors the best of American traditions. Our country has always served as a demonstration to the world that citizens in profound disagreement can exist in a harmony sustained by a law and culture that cherishes tolerance and compromise. Now is the time to redouble our commitment to those ideals.”
CBS News reported that the bipartisan amendment unveiled Monday “ensures nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage and safeguards any benefit or status — such as tax-exemptions, grants, contracts or educational funding — of an entity so long as it does not arise from a marriage.”
Also, the amendment “recognizes the importance of marriage, acknowledges that diverse beliefs and the people who hold them are due respect, and affirms that couples, including same-sex and interracial couples, deserve the dignity, stability and ongoing protection of marriage,” CBS reported.
The Religious Freedom Institute, which works to achieve broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, warned in a letter to key senators last month that the Respect for Marriage Act “would deal a devastating blow” to religious freedom in America, even with the amendments. “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.”
“Passing the RMA would mean that the U.S. government has arrogated to itself an authority it does not possess… [by]…attempting to dismantle and remake an institution that existed long before the state, that is, marriage and the family produced by marriage,” the RFI said.
The institute said the bill would require federal recognition of any single state’s definition of marriage without any additional limitations. “It would also invite lawsuits against religious individuals, organizations, and businesses that operate according to their religious conviction that marriage is a union of one man and one woman and that also act ‘under color of state law.’ The phrase ‘under color of state law’ in the RMA is quite dangerous to religious freedom. It significantly increases the risk of liability for any private organization that does not fully recognize and implement practices affirming ‘same-sex marriage’ if that organization: (1) participates in a joint activity with a state, (2) serves a function traditionally performed by the government, or (3) maintains operations that are entwined with government policies. These criteria are so broad that they could sweep up any organization that dissents from the new state-enforced definition of marriage.”
“The RMA presumes that those who defend natural marriage are motivated by bigotry rather than an abiding commitment to an ancient understanding of God, human dignity, and the nature of marriage,” said David Trimble, RFI Vice President for Public Policy and the Director of its National Center for Religious Freedom Education. “This premise of bigotry is deeply offensive and unworthy of any American government that claims to represent all its citizens.”
Wednesday’s vote leaves the way clear for a floor vote in the Senate. The bill, with its new religious liberty amendments, would then have to be voted on again in the House.