Utah’s two Republican senators have emerged as key players in the Senate’s debate over same-sex marriage. They’re both working on amendments that would add religious freedom protections to the Respect for Marriage Act, according to multiple news reports.
Sen. Mitt Romney’s office acknowledged his role in the negotiations to Axios earlier this week. The senator has repeatedly said he wants to ensure that a federal law protecting access to same-sex marriage would not harm people of faith.
Like Romney, Sen. Mike Lee is concerned about religious individuals and organizations. But his work on the Respect for Marriage Act is more focused on funding rules.
“Lee has been circulating an amendment ... along with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to protect federal funding for religious non-profits,” Axios reported.
Lee’s communications director, Lee Lonsberry, confirmed to KSL that the senator has been working to “address concerns over religious liberties.”
“Lee’s office did got give specifics of exactly what those protections might look like. Even with protection, he may not support the bill,” KSL reported.
The Respect for Marriage Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July with bipartisan support, but its progress stalled in the Senate as Democratic officials worked to drum up support from at least 10 Republicans, as the Deseret News previously reported.
If passed in its current form, the bill would ensure that states could not refuse to recognize same-sex marriages and that same-sex couples would have the same federal protections as heterosexual couples even if the Supreme Court overturns its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
Many conservative organizations have criticized the same-sex marriage bill, calling it either unnecessary, harmful or both.
Just this week, The Heritage Foundation released a statement arguing that the Respect for Marriage Act would put a “giant target on the backs” of religious opponents of same-sex marriage.
“To be clear, there is no risk of any legally married same-sex couple losing any of their benefits or legal status. The only reason to add Congress’ explicit blessing on such unions now is to cement it as national policy that can be used as a weapon by government agencies, such as the IRS, to deny traditional religious institutions tax-exempt status, licenses to assist in adoptions, and government funding and contracts,” said Roger Severino, Heritage’s vice president for domestic policy, in the statement.
Severino also said the religious freedom amendment that Romney is working on won’t go far enough. He urged policymakers to support Lee’s approach instead.
“If lawmakers are serious about religious freedom, they should reject the Baldwin-Collins-Romney amendment out of hand and look to the Lee amendment instead,” he said.
Democratic leaders announced Thursday that they likely won’t vote on the Respect for Marriage Act until after the midterms in November, according to The New York Times.