The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Far Right Again Says Marriage Equality Will Lead to Incest, Polygamy

Lesbian same-sex couple reading happily

Anti-LGBTQ+ forces are again trotting out the tired arguments that marriage equality will lead to legalization of incestuous or polygamous relationships — this time in response to the Respect for Marriage Act.

Never mind that the U.S. has had equal marriage rights for all couples, regardless of gender, since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015, and those other kinds of relationships haven’t received legal blessing. Right-wing groups claim the Respect for Marriage Act goes further than Obergefell and threatens religious freedom.

The act has been proposed in Congress to safeguard marriage equality in the event the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wadesaid he would like to see Obergefell reversed, along with rulings that established rights to contraception and same-sex intimacy.

The House of Representatives passed the bill in July, and it is pending in the Senate, where the 50 Democrats and independents who support it must attract the votes of at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster rule. So far five Republicans are expected to support the measure.

At least two coalitions of right-wing groups are pleading with Republicans to reject the bill. One coalition sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, bearing the names of 83 conservative leaders, including Michael P. Farris of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, and other usual suspects.

Their letter claims the Respect for Marriage Act “would require federal recognition of any one state’s definition of marriage without any parameters whatsoever. This would include plural marriages, time-bound marriages, open marriages, marriages involving a minor or relative, platonic marriages, or any other new marriage definition that a state chooses to adopt, including through undemocratic imposition by a state Supreme Court.” However, no state has chosen to adopt such a definition, and there’s no record of any state proposing this.

The organizations also contend the act would threaten religious freedom because it would bar anyone acting under a state law from denying full faith and credit to a marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the spouses. They say this would harm faith-based nonprofits that contract with governments to provide services such as foster care and adoption — but there’s already an uproar about these groups using taxpayer fund to discriminate. The right-wing groups further bring up the specter of the federal government depriving religious institutions of tax-exempt status, but that’s far-fetched.

A separate statement with some of the same signatories makes similar arguments. A group called the Conservative Action Project urges rejection of the Respect for Marriage Act, saying, “Such a troublesome policy pronouncement by Congress in favor of same-sex marriage would not only legislate a harmful, anti-family policy but also would unleash further religious freedom violations, threaten the tax-exempt status of religious entities, and wrongly marginalize social conservatives.”

It brings up several cases where private businesses ran afoul of state antidiscrimination laws by refusing to provide goods or services for weddings of same-sex couples, along with Kim Davis, the former county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail for contempt of court because she shut down all marriage license operations rather than issue licenses to same-sex couples. The statement refers to male-female unions as “natural” marriages and says they are “part of the very fabric of a free society” — not that any same-sex couples are keeping different-sex couples from marrying. It also claims that if the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law, “if any state recognized polyamorous marriages, the federal government would be forced to recognize them as well (as a matter of federal law).” Again, no state recognizes such marriages.

A Senate vote on the Respect for Marriage Act will probably come in September, one of its lead sponsors, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, told her state’s PBS outlet Friday. She said that in addition to the five Republican senators who have gone public with their support, there are five leaning in favor of the bill. Those who have publicly committed as definite or likely supporters are Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio (both cosponsors), Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. She did not name those leaning.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates are pushing some other Republican senators. The Human Rights Campaign Monday delivered petitions bearing hundreds of signatures of Utahns to Sen. Mitt Romney’s office in Salt Lake City, urging him to support the bill. Romney, who at times has shown willingness to go against his fellow Republicans, hasn’t taken a public stand on the legislation.

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