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Faith Groups: Add Religious Freedom to Marriage Equality Bill

Susan Collins and Tammy Baldwin
Courtesy Susan Collins and Tammy Baldwin

The organizations support a religious liberty amendment backed by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Susan Collins and Tammy Baldwin.

A variety of religious organizations signed on to a letter calling on the U.S. Senate to adopt a proposed amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act, with the amendment designed to allay concerns about implications for religious freedom if the act passes and writes marriage equality into federal law.

"The amendment protects the right to believe as we choose while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to respect marriages," reads the letter, released Monday by a coalition, organized by the Interfaith Alliance, that includes Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh groups. It is addressed to two of the Respect for Marriage Act's lead sponsors, Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Susan Collins. Baldwin is a Democrat from Wisconsin, Collins a Republican from Maine.

The act would make marriage equality federal law and therefore protect it from Supreme Court action, given that Justice Clarence Thomas has called for the overturning of Obergefell v. Hodges,the 2015 high court ruling that struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. It would also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down in the Obergefell and Windsor v. U.S. rulings but remains on the books, and would guarantee the right to interracial marriage as enshrined in the high court's Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967.

The amendment confirms that no nonprofit religious organization would have to provide goods, services, or facilities for wedding ceremonies or receptions, and it clarifies that the federal government would not have to recognize polygamous marriages. The House of Representatives has already passed the original version of the bill, but if the Senate passes it with the amendment, it would have to go back to the House. The Senate has already voted to open debate on the act, with 12 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats and independents, and further action is expected this week.

The letter calls the act "a simple way to provide legal stability for all married couples and their families" and says it recognizes "diversity of belief while ensuring that same-sex and interracial couples are treated with equal respect by federal and state governments."

Signatories to the letter, in addition to the Interfaith Alliance, are the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Center for Faith, Justice, and Reconciliation, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Faithful America, the Hindu American Foundation, Hindus for Human Rights, Jewish Women International, Keshet, Muslims for Progressive Values, National Council of Jewish Women, NETWORK Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Sikh Coalition, Sojourners, Union for Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Church of Christ.

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