Faith Groups, Leaders React to Respect for Marriage Act

The United States Senate voted on November 16 to begin debate on the Respect for Marriage Act, with further action anticipated after Thanksgiving.

This vote came after amendments were included that focused on religious exemptions. A bipartisan group of senators released a statement on November 14, noting that the amended version offers “commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”

President Biden has indicated that he will sign the bill if it passes the Senate and clears the final hurdle of a House review of the amended version.

A mid-November survey by Pew Research Center found that 61% of U.S. adults say that legal, same-sex marriage is good for society, with 36% saying it is “very good” and 25% “somewhat good.”

In early August, a survey by The Economist and YouGov found that a majority of U.S. adults want Congress to pass laws protecting same-sex sexual activity and same-sex marriage.

Several faith groups and leaders have issued statements about the Respect for Marriage Act both before and after the Senate’s mid-November vote.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a statement on November 15 in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, even as it affirmed its longstanding view of marriage.

“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,” the statement said. “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.”

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America sent a letter to senators the same day, emphasizing that it “cannot endorse the main purpose of H.R.8404,” but stating that the Senate’s revisions to the Respect for Marriage Act “appropriately address religious liberty concerns (provisions that were absent in the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives).”

In early September, the Reform Action Center of Reformed Judaism sent a letter to senators in support of the act. “Driven by our Jewish values, we are committed to supporting laws that protect the civil rights and individual liberties of all people,” the letter stated. “The Respect for Marriage Act would codify three landmark Supreme Court cases, Obergefell v. Hodges; Windsor v. United States; and Loving v. Virginia, and therefore the basic rights of same-sex and interracial marriage. We urge Congress to swiftly pass this important bill.”

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities also sent a letter affirming its view that marriage is between a man and a woman, while also supporting the Senate’s amendment to provide religious exemptions. “Since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the CCCU and other religious and First Amendment groups have sought to both uphold their sincere convictions regarding marriage and, in the spirit of Obergefell, advocate for a balanced legislative approach that preserves religious freedom and addresses LGBTQ civil rights,” the CCCU letter stated.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a statement on November 17, calling the Senate’s action “deeply concerning,” saying the religious exemptions are “insufficient,” and emphasizing that “the Catholic Church will always uphold the unique meaning of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman.”

Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), posted a series on tweets on November 16, praising the bipartisan efforts “to advance civil rights protections for same-sex and interracial couples, while reaffirming existing religious freedom protections.”

“We believe marriage equality and religious freedom are compatible,” Tyler tweeted. “We urge lawmakers who value faith freedom for all to vote in favor of the #RespectforMarriageAct and to continue working to uphold the rights of all Americans.”

The Interfaith Alliance urged senators to vote to pass the act, stating that “the freedom to marry who one loves is a matter of human dignity” and that this legislation “provides legal stability for all married couples and their families, regardless of background or beliefs.”

“There is a misconception that faith and LGBTQ+ equality are fundamentally incompatible, and opponents of this legislation point to their own beliefs as a reason to challenge marriage equality. As a religious leader, I regard this historic legislation as an important contribution to America’s religious freedom,” Interfaith Alliance President and CEO Paul Brandeis Raushenbush wrote. “Clearly, various religious traditions approach matters of marriage, family and identity differently. The Respect for Marriage Act recognizes this diversity while ensuring that same-sex and interracial couples are treated with equal respect in the public sphere. It makes no changes to robust federal religious freedom protections, nor does it intrude on the religious practices of houses of worship. It allows for certain traditions not to perform same-sex marriages or interracial marriages if that is their belief. ”

In a series of tweets on November 16, Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the act was “mis-named” and urged Congress to “focus on pro-life protections in the budget and a solution for our neighbors known as Dreamers.” He also asserted that “marriage is an institution designed by God; was created for our flourishing; is between one man and one woman for life. Today’s Senate action is wrong.”

Jim Denison, founder and CEO of Denison Ministries and theologian in residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, wrote: “In a day when six in ten Americans say the legalization of same-sex marriage is good for society, we should not be surprised that Congress would follow suit. And we should not be surprised when those who defend traditional marriage must pay a price for our biblical convictions. I’ll respond by focusing on a biblical fact that may seem surprising or even unwelcome: suffering for our faith is an indispensable part of the genuine Christian life.”

“Religious freedom is the right to live as ourselves, free from the dictates of someone else’s religious convictions,” tweeted Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “That means we must all have the right to marry who we love.”

The United Church of Christ organized a November 17 press conference in support of the Respect for Marriage Act. Interfaith Alliance, Faithful America, Keshet, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Hindus for Human Rights and the National Council of Jewish Women joined the UCC in organizing the event.

“At a time when civil and human rights are under renewed attack on many fronts, we are heartened by the Senate’s movement on the Respect for Marriage Act,” Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, said. “It is a small step, but an important one, to defend marriage equality and freedom from discrimination for LGBTQ+ communities.”

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