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A bill that would codify same-sex marriage protections into law passed a procedural vote with the support of 12 Republican senators on Wednesday, despite concerns that it would infringe on religious freedoms.
The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that legally defined marriage as between one man and one woman, and permitted states to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The RMA would make it so that any “person acting under color of State law” must fully recognize a marriage between two people in another state. It also makes it so that the federal government must recognize marriages if they were valid in the state where the marriage took place.
The procedural vote passed 62 to 37. The Republican senators who voted to advance the bill were Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), Todd Young (IN), Joni Ernst (IA), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (UT), Dan Sullivan (AK), and Thom Tillis (NC).
Greg Baylor, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Daily Wire that “the original version of the bill created serious threats to religious liberty. The changes to the bill did virtually nothing to address those threats. The amendments to the bill that purport to protect religious liberty are mere window dressing.”
Baylor said the bill “gives the IRS one more building block in its case to take away the taxes and status of nonprofits that hold traditional views on marriage.” He said it also “creates a threat to religious social service agencies that work with the government,” and could “affect how religious freedom cases are analyzed more broadly.”
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who voted to advance the bill, said that the current bill did address religious freedom, even as his fellow Utah Republican colleague Senator Mike Lee said it did not.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) November 16, 2022
Last month, the Religious Freedom Institute issued a statement to important senators telling them not to support the legislation. The Religious Freedom Institute has also taken issue with the “under color of state law” wording, stating it could open up an organization to liability.
But on Monday, a group of bipartisan senators said they had reached an agreement to include more religious freedom protections in the bill. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) said they had confirmed that the “legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”
The senators said their amendment “[p]rotects all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or Federal law,” and affirms that non-profit religious groups won’t have to provide services for a marriage. It also declares that the legislation “does not require or authorize the Federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.”
They also claimed the amendment makes it so that benefits and rights cannot be taken away if they are not from a marriage. “For instance, a church, university, or other nonprofit’s eligibility for tax-exempt status is unrelated to marriage, so its status would not be affected by this legislation,” the release stated.