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Why 4 U.S. senators acknowledged The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Senate floor

The Respect for Marriage Act aims to balance religious liberty with LGBTQ rights, the senators said

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing to examine social media’s impact on homeland security, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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Before the U.S. Senate voted to open debate Wednesday on the Respect for Marriage Act, four senators in their floor speeches acknowledged The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faith groups. 

The bipartisan bill (Senate Bill 4556), is a an amended version of the House bill that codifies same-sex marriage protections in federal law. Concerns that the original bill lacked sufficient protection for people of faith caused some senators to reach out to religious organizations around the nation to collaborate on a workable compromise. The bill, as currently amended, is expected to pass a full vote of the Senate later this week.

“Achieving this kind of compromise could not have happened without hard work, good faith and bipartisan negotiation,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said during his Senate floor speech. “I want to extend specific thanks to the following groups that have worked with my colleagues and me to develop this legislation, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America,” and several other religious organizations.

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Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats to the homeland on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Mariam Zuhaib, Associated Press

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., also said he thought the bill was a good compromise. “I am grateful for the leadership of so many people who were involved,” Tillis said before listing co-sponsoring senators of the legislation. “But I also want to thank The Church of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Council for Christian Colleges,” he said, while also listing a number of other religious organizations.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., echoed what her colleagues from across the aisle said during her own floor speech.

“I thank the faith communities who helped us expand the policy conversation and ensure that our amendment includes robust and common-sense religious liberty protections. In particular, I thank The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who provided thoughtful suggestions and contributions.”

Sinema said the church’s public statement supporting the legislation summarizes well the bill’s “holistic outcome.” She quoted the church’s statement in part that says, “‘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.’”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked that the church’s statement be included in the Senate record, as well as a combined letter of support signed by a group of intra-faith leaders including the Seventh-day Adventists, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and others.

The combined letter reads, “Dear Senators: We are leaders of faith-based organizations representing tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of religious institutions. All our organizations hold to an understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman. Many of us privately expressed concerns about the House-passed version of the Respect for Marriage Act. We are gratified by the substitute religious freedom language offered by Senators Collins, Baldwin, Sinema, Portman, Tillis, and Romney. It adequately protects the core religious freedom concerns raised by the bill, including tax exempt status, educational funding, government grants and contracts, and eligibility for licenses, certification, and accreditation. If passed, it would continue to build on the congressional wisdom represented by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). Attached are many statements from individual organizations.”