Faith leaders and religious freedom advocates hold conflicting views on the Senate’s Tuesday passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. Some see the legislation as an important moment of compromise in the LGBTQ rights debate, while others worry that people of faith will suffer if the bill becomes law.
The act, which aims to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, earned the support of 12 Republican senators, in part because it paired marriage protections with protections for religious people and groups, as the Deseret News previously reported.
The Senate’s version of the Respect for Marriage Act says that the bill cannot be used to weaken religious rights offered by the Constitution and other federal laws. The version that passed in the House earlier this year did not include that religious freedom language.
After the bill was updated in the Senate, several faith groups came out in support of the new version, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In a recent interview, Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy for the church, said that the religious freedom amendments “will ensure that all religious people and institutions are respected and protected.”
But other faith leaders and lawmakers remain critical of the Respect for Marriage Act, including Sen. Mike Lee from Utah. He proposed an amendment that would have added more religious freedom protections to the Senate bill, but failed to garner enough votes.
The Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act will now go to the House of Representatives for reconsideration.
Here’s a sampling of faith-related reactions to the Senate’s Tuesday passage of the Respect for Marriage Act:
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
“We applaud Republicans and Democrats working together to advance civil rights protections for same-sex and interracial couples, while reaffirming existing religious freedom protections. Lawmakers are right to recognize a diverse range of views on marriage among religious traditions as they work to pass legislation to ensure every American is equal in rights and dignity. We believe marriage equality and religious freedom are compatible. We are excited for the House to pass the amended bill and for President Biden to sign the Respect for Marriage Act into law,” she said in a statement.
The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance
“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans — we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away,” said the Rev. Raushenbush in a statement. “I savor this victory for the millions of LGBTQ+ families like mine, with hope that this will propel our government to keep fighting for an America where all belong.”
Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
“Government cannot change what it did not create. Marriage was created, by God, for our flourishing. He gave it a specific design as a covenant union between one man and one woman for life. No law or action will alter that. Nevertheless, new challenges for people of faith or religious institutions may arise once this bill becomes law. While we need to be clear-eyed about those, the task remains the same for Christ followers: Continue living out and embodying a Christian vision on this for a culture that is awash in confusion about marriage. Doing that will accomplish far more in the defense of marriage, and the picture of the Gospel it presents, than any law ever could,” Leatherwood said in a statement.
Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership
“We commend members of Congress of both parties for working together to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, codifying the rights of LGBTQ families while upholding religious protections. This experience proves it is possible to create and pass bipartisan legislation through respectful dialogue among diverse stakeholders, and we hope it can be a model for future lawmaking,” he said in a statement.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council
“The (Dis)Respect for Marriage Act makes people prime targets for government harassment, investigation, prosecution, even civil action. This bill is a club, with which the Left will attempt to beat people of orthodox faith — who believe in marriage as God designed it and history has defined — into submission to their destructive sexuality ideology,” he said in a statement.
The Rev. Nathan Empsall, executive director of Faithful America
“The historic vote on the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate is a victory for same-sex couples and interracial couples. And it’s a victory for religious freedom. This vital civil rights legislation will protect same-sex and interracial marriages from the Supreme Court’s recent damaging foray into theocracy and legislating from the bench. The House must move swiftly to send the legislation to the White House,” he said in a statement.
The Rev. Empsall called on Congress to next pass the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to federal civil rights law.
“Now it’s time — past time — for lawmakers to pass the Equality Act that will once and for all prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. ... The Gospels teach love, equality, and dignity for all and all are equal in God’s eyes. Now we need equality under the law,” he said.
Tyler Deaton, senior adviser to the American Unity Fund
“Bipartisan groups of LGBTQ advocates, faith organizations, businesses, trade associations, civic leaders and everyday Americans, are thrilled to see the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, codifying interracial and same-sex marriage. This successful legislation proves there is a path forward for equality and fairness for all Americans through dialogue, collaboration and compromise. We hope this bipartisan success paves the way for future lawmaking that would protect the millions of LGBTQ Americans who are still vulnerable to harassment and discrimination without federal non-discrimination legislation,” he said in a statement.
Bishop Robert E. Barron, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
“We are gravely disappointed that the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate and continue to call for its rejection,” he said in a statement. “This bill fails to include clear, comprehensive, and affirmative conscience protections for religious organizations and individuals who uphold the sanctity of traditional marriage that are needed. We affirm our respect for the dignity of all engaged in this debate, and acknowledge differing perspectives in our civil society, but the impact of this bill will only contribute to the diminishment of the sacredness and integrity of marriage in our society.”