By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Senate Sept. 15 delayed a vote on a bill to codify same-sex marriage in federal law until after the midterm elections.
Catholic and other faith leaders opposed to the measure, titled the Respect for Marriage Act, said if it became law, it would jeopardize the religious freedom of millions of Americans “who have sincerely held beliefs” about traditional marriage.
The U.S. House passed the bill July 19 with a large, bipartisan vote of 267-157.
According to The Hill news outlet, the Senate vote delay was announced after a bipartisan group of negotiators decided to give more time to consider “an amendment designed to respond to the concerns of GOP lawmakers who feared the legislation could put churches and other religious institutions at legal risk if Congress voted to codify same-sex marriage rights.”
Backers of the bill said the measure already includes language that protects the right of religious institutions or religious business owners to oppose same-sex marriage, but supporters of an amendment said it needs to be more clear.
Another amendment would make clear that marriage is between two people and would not open the door to legalizing polygamy, as some critics of the bill said it will.
Ahead of the House vote, the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees urged a vote against the measure.
They also called for a “no vote” on the Right To Contraception Act, which would establish a right in federal law for individuals to obtain and use contraceptives. The House passed that bill July 21.
“It is not lost on us that these bills come in apparent response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which returned to the people the right to protect preborn children and their mothers from abortion,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.
The prelates, who issued the joint letter, are the chairmen, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and on Pro-life Activities.
Regarding the Respect for Marriage Act, H.R. 8404, they wrote: “People who experience same-sex attraction should be treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone, on account of their human dignity, and never be subject to unjust discrimination. It was never discrimination, however, to simply maintain that an inherent aspect of the definition of marriage itself is the complementarity between the two sexes.”
“Marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, and open to new life, is not just a religious ideal — it is, on the whole, what is best for society in a concrete sense, especially for children,” they continued. “The health and socioeconomic benefits of stable family life with a mother and a father are well-established, as are the positive outcomes for children raised in such a home.”
After the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage, now-retired Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, stated as the USCCB president at the time: “The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.”
“Same-sex civil marriage has further diminished that fulfillment of that right, both directly and indirectly as — like contraception — it disassociates marriage and sexual actions from the responsibilities of childbearing,” Archbishops Cordileone and Lori said.
“This, in turn, reinforces existing negative dynamics in our society that have already done so much damage, such as with respect to fatherlessness.”
They added, “Since marriage redefinition, governments continue to threaten the conscience and religious freedom of individuals such as wedding vendors, and entities such as foster care providers, who seek to serve their communities without being punished for their long-standing and well-founded beliefs.”
Regarding the Right to Contraception Act, H.R. 8373, Archbishops Cordileone and Lori pointed out what they called “extreme and dangerous policy changes” in the bill.
Among other provisions, they said, it “would dramatically alter the landscape of informed consent laws and conscience protections around contraception, including abortion-causing drugs.”
If it becomes law, it also “would render invalid informed consent laws, waiting periods, and other federal and state laws and regulations applicable to patients, including minors, with respect to sterilization and contraceptives, including emergency contraception and contraceptives that can cause early abortions,” they said.
It also would make the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “inapplicable as to those items and would invalidate conscience protections on the basis that they impede access to these products and procedures.”
“The Catholic Church teaches that contraception diminishes respect for the dignity of the human person,” Archbishops Cordileone and Lori said, “and multiple studies on different aspects of contraception demonstrate that it can be harmful to women’s health and well-being and does not lead to fewer abortions.”
It is not clear if or when the Senate will take up the Right to Contraception Act.
The push in Congress to codify a right to same-sex marriage and contraception in federal law followed remarks by Justice Clarence Thomas in the Dobbs ruling that the court should reconsider the Obergefell decision and others. But the majority opinion in Dobbs said the ruling only concerned a constitutional right to abortion.