11-16-2022 Billy Hallowell, Faithwire
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
An attorney with conservative legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is warning the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act could end up “completely blowing up the understanding of marriage” while also sparking increased legal battles for Christians.
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“This deceptively named Respect for Marriage Act really disrespects the American people and threatens our most basic freedom,” Matt Sharp, senior counsel at ADF, recently told CBN’s Faithwire. “What it does is requires the federal government to recognize any type of marriage that’s recognized by a state.”
Sharp warned the bill, which has already been passed by the House and is poised to be taken up on the Senate floor Wednesday, “threatens religious liberty” in the process.
“It empowers the federal government with these broad new powers to go after people, faith, faith-based organizations and others that hold traditional views about marriage, biblically based views about marriage, and gives the federal government broad powers to punish organizations and people that hold those,” he said.
Watch Sharp discuss the Respect for Marriage Act:
Sharp also warned, if passed, the legislation could open Christians up to lawsuits at the federal level, noting these infractions could harm believers running businesses and charitable organizations. He even questioned whether some Christian nonprofits could find their tax-exempt status in peril.
“This explosion of what marriage means is going to have these severe consequences for so many people across the country,” he said.
These concerns become particularly pertinent as Christian business owners continue to fight battles over punishments for refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes or declining to create other products they feel violate their religious conscience.
“People of faith are coming under increased aggression from the federal government and state governments over their beliefs about marriage and family,” Sharp said. “And so what the so-called Respect for Marriage Act is going to do is give more authority to the federal government to be able to enforce this broad understanding that marriage is anything that a state says it is.”
Sharp’s comments come as a bipartisan group of senators has announced a compromise on the Respect for Marriage Act, adding an amendment they say balances their quest to protect same-sex marriage with worries over the impact the legislation could have on religious liberty.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a statement this week announcing the agreement.
In his own statement, Tillis said the bill “protects all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law, including but not limited to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and forbids this bill from being used to diminish or repeal any such protection.”
Tillis’ statement also proclaims nonprofit religious groups wouldn’t have to provide goods or services related to marriage, among other protections. Additionally, he said the bill wouldn’t require the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages; text of the bill affirms this latter statement.
“The Respect for Marriage Act is a needed step to provide millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages the certainty that they will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages,” Tillis said. “Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also shocked observers by coming out this week in support of the bill, despite maintaining its traditional views on marriage.
“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church said. “As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.
Despite these claims and developments, Sharp is skeptical of the federal government’s approach, believing lip service is being paid to religious liberty but pondering how officials will use the bill to skirt purported protections.
“The concern is: How is the federal government going to use this bill?” he asked. “Because we’ve seen time and time again under the Biden administration and under the Obama administration beforehand, that they take seemingly innocuous language and use it against people.”
He continued, “Whatever lip service they may be paying in this amendment is not going to take away the fact that we are completely blowing up the understanding of marriage, disrespecting people and organizations that believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and opening them up to lawsuits, not just from the federal government, but from other people.”
Sharp said he and ADF plan to continue pushing back against the Respect for Marriage Act, even if it passes and becomes law.
“We’re gonna continue to stand for marriage, and that means we’re gonna stand with people and organizations that believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” he said. “So, whether it’s the IRS knocking on the door saying, ‘We’re gonna take away your tax-exempt status,’ or even these organizations facing a federal lawsuit for standing firm on their belief that marriage, ADF is going to continue to stand with them and push back.”
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