Conservative Christian leaders opposed to the Respect for Marriage Act are engaged in cancel-culture fear mongering that frames marriage equality as a threat to their religious liberty, Amanda Tyler said in a recent episode of the “Respecting Religion” podcast.
“For instance, Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, said that the bill ‘subverts marriage,’ and that those who refuse to celebrate all marriages will be censored and cancelled,” said Tyler, executive director of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky and a fierce opponent of LGBTQ inclusion and same-sex marriage.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan “wrote of the ‘far reaching harms of the bill,’ and that it would fail ‘to afford space in the public square for those who offer an authentic witness about marriage,’” Tyler noted.
But Tyler and Holly Hollman, general counsel and associate executive director of BJC, used their Dec. 1 podcast to address the conspiratorial rhetoric hurled against the Respect for Marriage Act, which was passed by the U.S. Senate 61-36 on Nov. 29 and sent back for modification by the House, which passed a similar version earlier this year.
Hollman, an attorney specializing in religious liberty cases, explained that the bill provides federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage. “The legislation states that full faith and credit is given to marriage equality. That simply means that states will recognize marriages that are validly performed and recognized by state law.”
Most Americans take the right to get marriage for granted, she added. “Each state has their own marriage laws, and, of course, the Supreme Court found that there was a constitutional right to marriage equality — marriage for same-sex couples — in the 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges.”
The House and Senate acted quickly on the new legislation after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described Obergefell as “demonstrably erroneous” and suggested it should be revisited, Tyler added. “That language by a sitting Supreme Court justice definitely caught the attention of Congress and influenced the introduction and now the imminent passage of this piece of legislation to protect these rights to marriage equality with an act of Congress.”
The Senate bill passed with bipartisan support — a dozen Republicans joined all Democrats for passage — because it included religious liberty guarantees protecting faith groups who object to marriage equality from having to perform or recognize same-sex marriages.
According to the act: “Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises. Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect.”
The House is expected to add that language to the bill before sending it to President Biden for his signature.
“There is still a powerful temptation to equate rights for others, for LGBTQ people, as an attack on religious liberty.”
But that provision hasn’t been enough to keep some religious groups from opposing the measure, Hollman noted. “What we see in this debate is that there is still a powerful temptation to equate rights for others, for LGBTQ people, as an attack on religious liberty, and that’s disheartening.”
Some critics of the legislation, including Mohler, have lamented that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage, will be nullified with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. They also fear their belief strictly in heterosexual unions will result in their marginalization.
Hollman said such concern is misplaced: “The rights recognized by marriage equality should not be perceived as taking away religious beliefs or the way religious marriages are performed or recognized in any religious tradition, religious congregation or other religious entities.”
Tyler added that support for the act has come from some religious traditions that believe marriage should be only between a man and a woman. These included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
“Elder Jack Gerard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put it particularly well in an interview he did with Deseret News. The elder said, ‘First, it is clear our well-known doctrine on marriage will remain unchanged. This does not change church doctrine. In fact, the religious freedom amendments in the Respect for Marriage Act support our ability to practice our doctrine,’” Tyler said. “And he went on: ‘Second, the support of these amendments will ensure that all religious people and institutions are respected and protected, even though they have a doctrine or practice that’s inconsistent with the law of the land.”
“The distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage is often missed.”
Tyler said people of faith need simply keep in mind the difference between civil and religious unions.
“The distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage is often missed. I see, when we talk about this in audiences, this kind of ‘aha!’ moment when we differentiate between the two and recognize that that’s part of separation of church and state, that the Congress actually has nothing to say about religious marriage,” Tyler explained. “And so, when we’re talking about this Respect for Marriage Act, we are talking only about the civil aspects of marriage.”
Hollman cited a paragraph from the bill that underscores that point. “‘Nothing in this act, or any amendment made by this act, shall be construed to diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or federal law.’ So that’s just saying, hey, we’re not taking away anybody’s religious liberty rights. We are simply recognizing valid marriages, and that includes marriage between same-sex couples.”