Earlier today, President Joe Biden, surrounded by LGBTQ+ activists, progressive lawmakers, and drag queens, signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, effectively codifying the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision.
The House passed the bill last Thursday with a vote of 258-169, with 39 House Republicans voting to pass it. The Senate passed the bill two weeks ago by a vote of 61 to 36. The Respect for Marriage Act effectively does little to change U.S. law regarding same-sex marriage. It officially repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which no longer held any weight in the wake of several Supreme Court decisions. Biden, along with Senate Majority Leader (then Rep.) Chuck Schumer, voted in favor for DOMA, which was signed into law in 1998 by then President Bill Clinton.
The legislative effort became a priority for progressives following Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the abortion issue back to the states. Thomas wrote that the Court should revisit all of its previous rulings based in substantive due process, including Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
The law requires that the federal government recognize same-sex marriage.
Biden described the law as a blow against all forms of intolerance, explaining, “Folks, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia. they’re all connected. But the antidote to hate is love. This law and the love it defends strike a blow against hate in all its forms.”
Supporters of the bill praised its passing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said,
“Just as I began my career fighting for LGBTQ communities, I am overjoyed that one of the final bills I will sign as speaker will be the Respect for Marriage Act, ensuring the federal government will never again stand in the way of marrying the person you love.”
Critics of the new law have cited its weak protections for religious freedom. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, had introduced an amendment in the House Rules Committee last week to fully protect religious liberty, but it was blocked. “No free American should have to live in constant threat of having their life upended and ruined in court for holding millennia-old religious beliefs,” Roy said.
Language was added to the act by the Senate to offer protections for religious freedom. Section 6 reads:
“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.
Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, nonprofit religious organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, nondenominational ministries, interdenominational and ecumenical organizations, mission organizations, faith-based social agencies, religious educational institutions, and nonprofit entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion, and any employee of such an organization, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal under this subsection to provide such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.”
Many legal observers say that the bill leaves open the possibility of civil action against millions of Americans who hold sincere beliefs about traditional marriage.
That’s because the provision, notably, says nothing about individuals or business owners, many of whom have already faced repeated lawsuits and state action for refusing to provide goods and services for same-sex weddings.
Ryan Bangert, senior vice president of strategic initiatives for Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented many of these business owners, including Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers, and Lorrie Smith of 303 Creative, released a statement following the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act, saying:
“The House voted today to prioritize virtue-signaling over protecting the freedom to hold decent and honorable beliefs about marriage. This bill, which provides no protection or benefits that same-sex couples don’t already enjoy, deceptively gives lip service to religious liberty while undermining the First Amendment freedoms that belong to each of us. For months, many Americans, faith-based organizations, and churches across the country have raised concerns about the undeniable harms of this bill, yet Congress has rejected all attempts to include comprehensive religious liberty protections. We are grateful to the representatives who actively listened to these Americans and voted against this misleading legislation. Unfortunately, too few were willing to join them. ADF remains committed to ensuring the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans and to defending those who will likely be targeted because of this legislation.”
Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote, also worried about the effects of the law on religious Americans, saying,
“This gross attempt to redefine marriage allows radical activists to declare war on anyone that disagrees with them… “The bill lacks any tangible protections for people of faith who are already facing a hostile administration which is openly weaponizing the government against those who fail to perfectly align with its radical agenda. No law can change the truth that traditional marriage remains foundational to our society.”
This bill enshrines same-sex marriage into law, likely paving the way for more lawsuits against Americans who want to practice their religious beliefs. Same-sex marriage is antithetical to the Christian view of marriage. Jesus made very clear His definition of marriage when He was questioned about it in Matthew 19:4-6. The verses state:
“And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
God gave marriage as a gift to mankind, a beautiful relationship that also depicts Christ and His Church. Those who seek to hold to the purity of marriage will face challenges from a government which has instead adopted a twisted and man-devised view of marriage.
A new form of what can be called “process persecution” — wherein LGBTQ activists and government agencies will use the legal system, social pressure, and mobs to harass, bankrupt, or disrupt the life and livelihood of anyone who doesn’t agree with their views — is likely to ramp up in the months to come and it will be used against business owners and individuals.
And despite the ostensible religious liberty protections provided by the law, even churches and Christian non-profits will likely be targeted. After all, it isn’t illegal for crisis pregnancy centers to support expectant mothers, yet many of them have been slandered, censored, vandalized, and firebombed in the months since the Dobbs decision — and not a single suspect has been identified, much less arrested.
This is a different kind of persecution, but often harder to combat because it is, in the words of author Rod Dreher, a “soft totalitarianism,” one that uses words like “love” and “tolerance” to try to turn Christians against each other and words like “hate” and “intolerance” to try to intimidate them into compromising their faith.
Christians must dig into their Bibles, spend more time in fellowship with other Christians, and pray for strength, resolve, and wisdom. And, no matter how difficult it gets, we must courageously speak the truth about God’s design for marriage and family even as we continue to extend grace and carry the gospel message to a lost and hurting world.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.