The “Respect for Marriage” Act, after passing through the U.S. House of Representatives, is just a signature away from reaffirming the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized gay marriage.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the Act, which would codify the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that requires states to license gay marriage. If it the legislation is signed into law, it would repeal the “Defense of Marriage” Act, which banned the federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
That’s reason to celebrate for LGBT-identifying people concerned that their ability to marry needs safeguards.
However, some experts say the new federal law creates concerns for others, as it could take encroach on the freedoms of any who refuse to participate in same-sex marriages by making them vulnerable to lawsuits.
Two Republican representatives noted those concerns before the Dec. 8 vote. The bill was sent back to their chamber of Congress after the U.S. Senate changed its wording.
The new version included amendments regarding religious liberty and a section describing the importance of marriage and perspectives on it. The bill also protects interracial marriage.
The bill’s opponents said the provisions about same-sex marriage worried them.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) rescinded their support of the bill on its second pass through the House, saying it couldn’t sufficiently protect the religious liberty of those who feel it would be wrong to participate in ceremonies of same-sex couples.
Still, when it came time to vote, the Act was passed by a wide margin in the House. Among Republicans, 45 voted with all members of the Democratic caucus to support the bill.
Afterward, LGBT groups expressed relief and joy.
“Today’s vote in the House of Representatives sends a clear message: love is winning,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, announced in a written statement.
“The fact that this bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both chambers proves that marriage equality is supported by a wide swath of the American people.”
After the bill passed through the U.S. Senate on Nov. 29, President Joe Biden expressed his satisfaction that bipartisan support had helped underscore “the essential right of LGBTQI+ and interracial couples to marry.”
He said that if it passed the House, he would “promptly and proudly sign it into law.”
The vote affirms the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized the ability of same-sex couples to marry as a fundamental right.
But the Court’s ruling could be challenged, putting same-sex marriage in danger, some worried since June when the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson decided to pass abortion regulation back to states. The case overturned the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade case that had made abortion legal nationwide.
Immediately after that, pundits wondered aloud whether the Court might overturn Obergefell v. Hodges as well.
They blamed their worry on Justice Clarence Thomas’s written Dobbs v. Jackson opinion. Thomas argued that the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges and Roe v. Wade on similar logic.
Overturning one might lead to overturning both, he wrote in his opinion.
The “Respect for Marriage” Act does carve out some protections for religious liberty.
The bill’s text states that any nonprofit religious organization “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”
But experts say it leaves gaps.
For example, it could force wedding vendors to help with a same-sex marriage ceremony, even if doing so goes against their deeply held religious beliefs, experts said.
The Respect for Marriage Act damages religious freedom by forcing people of faith to participate in some elements of same-sex marriage, said Emma Waters, of The Heritage Foundation.
“The bill only protects the solemnization of the marriage, not the other factors surrounding it,” Waters told The Epoch Times.
Waters argued that the bill’s phrasing has major gaps.
For instance, the government can’t force a pastor to marry a same-sex couple. But if he rents his church out for weddings, he could be forced to let them marry there, she said.
Also, the bill still makes it possible to sue a religious institution for discrimination against same-sex couples, she said.
“The way the bill is worded, while it doesn’t require anti-discrimination litigation, it doesn’t prohibit it either,” she said.
Waters said the IRS could potentially use the bill to remove tax-exempt status, take away government grants, and revoke licenses from religious organizations.
Furthermore, the bill’s wording offers no protections for religious people who run private businesses and oppose same-sex marriage for moral reasons.
Under the Respect for Marriage Act, a Christian baker who refuses to use his artistic skills for a same-sex wedding cake could face a lawsuit, Waters said.
The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Lee’s amendment would have forbidden the federal government from taking “discriminatory action” against someone because of their belief that marriage is between only one man and one woman.
Without the Lee amendment, the “Respect for Marriage” Act will leave anyone who doesn’t support same-sex marriage vulnerable, said Waters.
“Anyone who wants to hold a traditional view of marriage is going to come under fire for this.”
In a press release, Diaz-Balart said America has a long history of respecting state decisions on what constitutes marriage. He said he supports “sacred and vulnerable” religious liberties.
“My record shows that I am a long-standing advocate against discrimination of all types. I, however, cannot support any effort that undermines religious liberties by failing to provide legitimate safeguards for Faith-Based organizations that object based on their deeply-held religious beliefs,” Diaz-Balart said.
He voted against the bill, he said, because Senate Democrats rejected amendments that protected religious liberty.
Christian Americans involved in wedding-related businesses could soon find they’re forced to choose between business and conscience.
Daniel, a Florida resident, is a Christian who opposes same-sex marriage and owns a wedding venue with his wife. He chose to remain anonymous to protect his business.
Marriage between a man and woman builds society, creates children, and provides far-reaching benefits, he said.
He doesn’t see the same good effects springing from same-sex marriage.
“I believe that a mother and a father are both essential. Without a mother and a father, creating a family, our society ceases to exist,” he said. “Study after study confirms that children do best when they have an intact nuclear family, their mother and father, raising them.”
Daniel said his wedding venue isn’t explicitly religious. But he sees his work as a moral endeavor.
“We both feel very strongly about the importance of family. And if we can help families create a great memory of their start, then what better business can you be in than that?” he said.
Because of his beliefs, Daniel wants to promote and celebrate heterosexual marriage through his business. However, he worries he now could face a lawsuit if he refuses to rent his venue to a same-sex couple.
“If somebody sued me for $100,000, I’d be out of business,” he said. “But I mean, these suits nowadays are in the millions.”
Daniel also refuses to host drinking parties for local fraternities or sororities on his property, because he doesn’t want any share of responsibility if a drunk student does something destructive to others. He said he refuses to facilitate under-age or irresponsible drinking.
“I don’t think I should have to be a part of something that I don’t think is good overall for our society,” he said.
Daniel has not yet had a same-sex couple marry on his property. Same-sex couples have toured it but didn’t ask to book his venue. He has hosted many events attended by same-sex attracted people without an issue.
“If we were somehow forced to legally [host a same-sex wedding,] we wouldn’t feel good about that payment,” he said. “So we might just turn that money over to our church or some other organization that helps people who struggle with same-sex attraction.”