As the U.S. Senate began voting on legislation that would codify the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, two leading U.S. bishops called the bill “needless and harmful” and said it “must be voted down.”
The Senate voted in mid-November to break a Republican filibuster against the Respect for Marriage Act (HR 8404). On Monday, the body was set to take a late-afternoon vote on ending debate and advancing the bill.
“The Respect for Marriage Act’s rejection of timeless truths about marriage is evident on its face and in its purpose,” said a November 23 letter to senators from New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Robert E. Barron, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. “It would also betray our country’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty, as detailed in the explanation appended to this letter and in previous communications.”
If passed, the RMA will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage “at greater risk of government discrimination,” said Dolan and Barron.
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.
According to Religion Clause, a blog covering religious liberty issues, the major changes added in the bill to address religious liberty concerns include the following:
Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises. Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect….
In General.– Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed 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.
Goods or Services.–Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, nonprofit religious organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, nondenominational ministries, interdenominational and ecumenical organizations, mission organizations, faith-based social agencies, religious educational institutions, and nonprofit entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion, and any employee of such an organization, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal under this subsection to provide such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.
“The bill’s protections of religious liberty … narrowly applies only to the provision of ‘services, accommodation, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges’ concerning the wedding ceremony itself, that is, to ‘the solemnization or celebration of a marriage,’” Thomas R. Ascik, an attorney who has written on a variety of legal and constitutional issues, wrote at Catholic World Report. “And crucially, the protection is not for every person, business, or organization. It applies only to ‘nonprofit religious organizations’ and affiliated organizations ‘whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion.’ Thus, cake and flower shops, as well as caterers, wedding planners, limousine services, photographers, and musicians, all of whom might plead their religious convictions in not wanting to contract their services with LGBT weddings are excluded from protection.”