Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
Senate Republicans Introduce 'License to Discriminate' Bill

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com December 13 2013 2:51 PM ET

A new bill sponsored by 11 Republican senators aims to protect the tax-exempt status of churches and religious nonprofits that oppose marriage equality.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would prohibit federal agencies from rescinding the tax-exempt status of churches and nonprofit groups, according to the Washington Examiner

According to the bill's author and primary sponsor in the Senate, religious liberty is under attack — primarily from the growing national acceptance of marriage equality. 

"What I would like to do is make sure that we go out of our way to protect churches from adverse action that could be taken against them as a result of their doctrinal views of the definition of marriage," Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, told the Examiner Tuesday. "We need not just statements, but we need legislation to protect religious liberty from this kind of potential threat."

The threat to which Lee refers to isn't just "potential" at this point in time, it's entirely hypothetical. President Obama has promised to respect the rights of churches and religious-based nonprofits to deny service or refuse to recognize marriages that go against their religious doctrine. Every state that has enacted marriage equality legislation has done so with strong religious exemptions protecting the rights of faith-based institutions to do the same. And the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution features a fundamental and oft-reaffirmed protection of religious liberty in its restriction that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." 

The Senate legislation is cosponsored by fellow Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Marco Rubio of Florida, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Roy Blunt of Missouri, James Rische of Idaho, Tad Cochran of Mississippi, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in September by a bipartisan group of Congresspeople, reports ThinkProgress

According to Zack Ford's analysis of the House legislation at ThinkProgress, the bill could make it legal for any individual person with a religious-based opposition to same-sex marriage to deny service to a married couple, and could easily extend to federal workers, businesses, and even federally-funded programs like homeless shelters and substance abuse clinics. 

The legislation appears to be an attempt to side-step federal policy changes that recognize legally married same-sex couples in the wake of this summer's Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. U.S.A., which struck down a key section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Since that landmark decision, federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, Social Security, Internal Revenue Service, and Department of Homeland Security have announced that each will extend equal benefits and privileges to legally married same-sex couples as those afforded to married opposite-sex couples.