U.S. Senate Prepares to Vote on Disastrous “Respect for Marriage Act”

November 15, 2022, Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate is preparing to vote, as early as tomorrow, on the “Respect for Marriage Act” (RMA). According to a statement the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) sent to key senators last month urging opposition to the bill, the RMA:

would deal a devastating blow to religious freedom in America, even if it included proposed amendments [which the current bill now does] that purport to protect religious freedom, but in fact do not. It represents a dangerous authoritarian turn by Congress and the administration that would extend the power of government well beyond its constitutional role and harm the fundamental freedoms of all Americans.

The RFI statement continues:

Passing the RMA would mean that the U.S. government has arrogated to itself an authority it does not possess… [by]…attempting to dismantle and remake an institution that existed long before the state, that is, marriage and the family produced by marriage.

Even in its amended form, which claims to protect the religious liberty of dissenters: 

the premise of the RMA [remains], namely that opposition to same-sex “marriage” is akin to racism. That claim is not only false but profoundly disingenuous. The vast majority of Americans, including those who are religious, do not oppose interracial marriage. There is no real or perceived threat to marriage based on race in any state in America.

The RMA would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. DOMA affirmed, for federal purposes, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and allowed states to refuse to recognize “same-sex marriages” granted under the laws of other states. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor (2013). In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Supreme Court further invalidated DOMA and any enforcement it had by requiring all states to license and recognize “same-sex marriage.” 

Going beyond the repeal of DOMA and the decisions in Windsor and Obergefell, the RMA would require federal recognition of any single state’s definition of marriage without any additional limitations. It would also invite lawsuits against religious individuals, organizations, and businesses that operate according to their religious conviction that marriage is a union of one man and one woman and that also act “under color of state law.” 

The phrase “under color of state law” in the RMA is quite dangerous to religious freedom. It significantly increases the risk of liability for any private organization that does not fully recognize and implement practices affirming “same-sex marriage” if that organization: (1) participates in a joint activity with a state, (2) serves a function traditionally performed by the government, or (3) maintains operations that are entwined with government policies. These criteria are so broad that they could sweep up any organization that dissents from the new state-enforced definition of marriage. 

The RMA, furthermore, would imperil the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of religious organizations that hold to their convictions about marriage as the union of husband and wife. 

“This law would intentionally subject millions of religious Americans, and the tens of thousands of religious institutions they represent, to ruinous lawsuits in federal courts,” said RFI President Tom Farr. “This tragic result would be unjust. It would undermine the most dynamic and compassionate, non-governmental civil society in history, one comprised of the entire spectrum of American religions – from Jewish schools, to Muslim health clinics, to Christian homes for the aged and dying, to countless others that bring hope for the marginalized and desperate. Those who devote their lives to these ministries are lovers, not haters.”

Beyond the litigation threats the RMA would unleash, RFI also condemns in the strongest possible terms the way this law would “teach America’s young that those who understand marriage as the union of one man and one woman are bigots who may be tolerated, but never again accepted as equal citizens of the United States.”

“The RMA presumes that those who defend natural marriage are motivated by bigotry rather than an abiding commitment to an ancient understanding of God, human dignity,  and the nature of marriage,” said David Trimble, RFI Vice President for Public Policy and the Director of its National Center for Religious Freedom Education. “This premise of bigotry is deeply offensive and unworthy of any American government that claims to represent all its citizens,” Trimble continued.

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Nathan Berkeley