Sunday, November 20, 2022

U.S. bishops say religious freedom protections in same-sex marriage bill are ‘insufficient’

Why Couples Should Care About the Respect for Marriage Act

Following the advancement of a bill in the U.S. Senate to federally recognize same-sex marriages, the nation’s Catholic bishops reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage. 

They also “expressed concerns that the legislation could lead to discrimination against individuals who hold to a traditional view of marriage.”

“The Catholic Church will always uphold the unique meaning of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a Nov. 17 statement. 

“In doing so, we are joined by millions of what the Obergefell Court called ‘reasonable and sincere’ Americans — both religious and secular — who share this time-honored understanding of the truth and beauty of marriage,” Dolan continued, referencing the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

The Senate voted 62-37 Wednesday to advance the bill, which still needs a final vote to make it out of the Senate before final approval in the House of Representatives and then President Joe Biden’s signature. 

The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), if ultimately signed into law by Biden, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA already was effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges.

The present bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry but would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — contracted in other states.

A bipartisan amendment to the bill pertaining to religious freedom ensures that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, CBS News reported. It also makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage. 

Finally, the amendment adds language ensuring that churches, universities, and other nonprofit religious organizations would not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and would not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage, the New York Times reported. 

Dolan said the bill opens people such as faith-based adoption and foster care providers, religious employers seeking to maintain their faith identity, and faith-based housing agencies to potential discrimination since it does not provide for individual conscience protections for those who hold to a traditional view of marriage. 

“The bill is a bad deal for the many courageous Americans of faith and no faith who continue to believe and uphold the truth about marriage in the public square today,” Dolan wrote.

“The Act does not strike a balance that appropriately respects our nation’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty,” he continued. “Senators supporting the Act must reverse course and consider the consequences of passing an unnecessary law that fails to provide affirmative protections for the many Americans who hold this view of marriage as both true and foundational to the common good.” 

The U.S. bishops had urged senators in July to oppose the RFMA, citing the importance of stable marriages for the well-being of children and society and expressing concerns about the bill’s effect on the religious freedom of those who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. 

“People who experience same-sex attraction should be treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone, on account of their human dignity, and never be subject to unjust discrimination,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops’ committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, wrote in a letter to senators.

“It was never discrimination, however, to simply maintain that an inherent aspect of the definition of marriage itself is the complementarity between the two sexes,” he argued. “Marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, and open to new life, is not just a religious ideal — it is, on the whole, what is best for society in a concrete sense, especially for children.”

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