Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-169 to pass the so-called Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA). Following a similar vote by the U.S. Senate, the RFMA then headed to President Joe Biden’s desk. President Biden signed the bill into law Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Background on RFMA. The RFMA repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was passed in 1996 by a largely bipartisan Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. DOMA created a federal law definition of marriage which enshrined the correct view of marriage as between one man and one woman. DOMA allowed federal and state governments to uphold the truth about marriage and refuse recognition of same-sex marriages.
RFMA also purportedly provides religious liberty protections for religious organizations that hold to the traditional view of marriage.
The RFMA began as a political response to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence in the Dobbs v. Jackson Womens Health decision which overturned Roe v. Wade. In his concurrence, Thomas called into question not only Roe v. Wade but also other decisions based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s “substantive due process” doctrine, like Obergefell v. Hodges, which fabricated a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Democrats in Congress took full advantage of this political moment and exploited it to pass the RFMA.
Congressman Mike Flood, who represents Nebraska’s First Congressional District, said it best: “The legal status of same-sex marriage is not in question anywhere in the country. This legislation, even with the Senate amendments to the original House bill, has the potential to expose people of faith to serious litigation as they live out their deeply held beliefs.”
How Did Nebraska’s Federal Delegation Vote? Congressman Flood was joined by Congressman Adrian Smith (CD-3) and Senator Deb Fischer in rightly opposing the RFMA. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of all Nebraska’s federal delegation.
Congressman Don Bacon (CD-2) voted twice in support of the RFMA. In supporting the legislation, Rep. Bacon said that he personally believes in the traditional view of marriage, but simultaneously claimed that “[t]he majority of Americans believe that people generally have the right to live private lives as they choose, so long as they don’t hurt others.” He also alleged the bill had sufficient religious liberty protections. Congressman Bacon’s argument of “personally opposed, but…” argument smacks of the same argument made by Catholic pro-abortionists who insist that they “personally oppose abortion, but can’t impose their personal views on the public.”
Congressman Bacon is also fundamentally wrong about the bill’s so-called religious liberty protections. But why is he wrong?
Trusted religious liberty organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Alliance Defending Freedom, carefully examined the legislation and found several failures.
First, courts will now point to the RFMA and claim the “government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex marriages as valid.” This is significant because the “compelling governmental interest” is a key element when religious organizations and people of faith raise defenses under the 1st Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is now “likelier” that “religious objectors [will] be denied exemptions under the First Amendment and RFRA in cases where they would have prevailed but for the passage of RFMA.”
Second, RFMA will have the ability to hurt faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, housing providers, social service agencies, wedding vendors (such as website creators and food designers), among others. With the rise of the LGBT movement, there has been a “clash of orthodoxies” between the sexual liberation movement and people who hold sincere moral and religious views on traditional marriage and human sexuality. The RFMA further tilts the scales in favor of laws enshrining the LGBT worldview and ideology.
Finally, even though the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment allegedly protecting religious liberty, the language of this amendment either did nothing more than protect what is already protected under law or added empty, meaningless language that will do nothing for, as Justice Kennedy told us in Obergefell, “reasonable and sincere people” who hold to the traditional view of marriage.
In brief, the bill lacks “comprehensive, affirmative, enforceable protections,” and it is only a matter of time before the RFMA is legally used to punish people of faith and religious organizations.
While we are called to continue to be like St. John the Baptist and be “one crying out in the wilderness” about the truth of marriage, as St. John did with King Herod, the stakes have been raised because of the RFMA.
Once again, thank you to Congressmen Flood and Smith and Senator Fischer for their important votes against the RFMA. Please take time to personally thank them and, as well, express your disappointment with Congressman Bacon for his vote.