There is sharp disagreement among US faith leaders and denominations over the bill being advanced in the Senate that would protect same-sex and interracial marriages in federal law.
The measure, a high priority for congressional Democrats, won a important test vote Wednesday as 12 Senate Republicans joined all Democrats to present the bill for a final vote in the coming days. This required at least 10 GOP Senators.
On Tuesday, one of the most prominent denominations with a conservative leaning – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – spoke out in favor of the legislation. But the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention remain opposed, saying the bill — even with a newly added amendment aimed at winning Republican support — poses a serious threat to religious freedom.
A primary concern for these leaders of the country’s two largest denominations is that even the updated law would not protect religious schools or religious non-profit organizations such as adoption and foster families.
The law “is a deliberate attack on the religious liberty of millions of Americans with sincere beliefs in marriage based on the dictates of faith in God,” leaders at the Missouri Baptist Convention, an SBC affiliate, said in a letter this week US Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri.
The letter could not influence Blunt; he voted for the bill.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty, dismissed the bipartisan amendment as failing even the “paltry goal” of preserving the status quo by reconciling religious freedom with the right to same-sex marriage .
“The law will be a new arrow in the quiver of those who want to deny religious organizations the freedom to freely perform their religious duties, strip them of their tax exemptions, or bar them from full participation in the public arena,” Dolan said earlier this week .
Meanwhile, many faith leaders on the center left are cheering the bill, including some who have planned a Thursday morning rally in the US Capitol. The sponsors of the rally include the Interfaith Alliance, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ Justice and local church ministries, and Hindus for Human Rights.
“This is sensible legislation that provides religious freedom for all, not just the select few,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia, executive director of Religions for Peace USA. “Faith communities must work to live out the principles of marriage that are rooted in their own faiths, without imposing their religious views on people of other faiths and those without faith.”
The bill passed the House of Representatives in July. A final Senate vote is expected shortly, and the measure – if approved – would then be sent back to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.
The bill has steadily gained momentum since the Supreme Court’s decision in June decision that Roe v. Wade picked up and federal abortion rights. A statement by Judge Clarence Thomas at the time suggested that a previous Supreme Court decision The protection of same-sex marriages could also be at risk.
Rachel Laser, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, noted the court rulings in her statement praising Wednesday’s vote. She called the law an “important step in our nation’s journey toward liberty without favor and equality without exception.”
The legislation included a proposed Senate amendment aimed at bringing more Republicans on board and clarifying that it will not affect the rights of individuals or corporations already enshrined in law. Another change would clarify that marriage is between two people, an attempt to deflect some far-right criticism that the legislation may support polygamy.
However, numerous conservative faith leaders scoffed at the changes.
“The new amended Senate bill — the ‘health’ bill that ‘protects Americans’ religious liberties’ — doesn’t actually do anything like that,” wrote Rev. Al Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in an opinion piece. “What remains wide open is the threat to services such as Christian orphanages and childcare, as well as adoption services and foster care.”
Southern Baptist Public Policy Arm chief Brent Leatherwood of the Ethics and Religious Freedoms Commission accused Senate backers of the bill of pushing legislation “that will only divide us.”
“We oppose this law because marriage is a God-created institution with a very specific design: A lifelong union between a man and a woman,” Leatherwood said via email.
Pastor Jack Hibbs, who leads Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, an evangelical megachurch in Southern California, said the legislation “creates an atmosphere of great disrespect for marriage.”
“We’ve seen this in recent years, for example, with companies that provide wedding services, from wedding venues to bakeries and florists,” he said, adding that nonprofits “could be sued because of their personal and fundamental beliefs, what should be protected by the First Amendment.”
Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said the bill provided insufficient religious protections.
“I oppose language like exceptions because it means we have a passport to discriminate,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “But we don’t do that at all. We affirm that children need a mother and a father.”
He acknowledged that leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “seem to be going in a different direction” on same-sex marriage. “But they have been very, very strong partners for us in trying to bring the focus to the need to sustain the family.”
In its statement Tuesday, the Utah-based LDS said the church’s doctrine would continue to view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments, but would support the rights of same-sex couples so long as they did not violate religious groups. right to believe as they wish.
Among the faith leaders pushing for the bill to be passed was Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, an American Baptist pastor who is president of the Interfaith Alliance and is part of a same-sex marriage.
“There is a misconception that faith and LGBTQ+ equality are fundamentally incompatible,” he wrote in an opinion piece published by Religion News Service on Wednesday.
“As a religious leader, I consider this historic law to be an important contribution to America’s freedom of religion,” he wrote. “More immediately, I’m not willing to leave the status of the marriages I’ve entered into, or my own, to chance.”
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