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Travis Weber, vice president for Policy and Government Affairs at Family Research Council, took Sen. Joni Ernst’s explanation letter regarding her support of the (Dis)Respect for Marriage Act and dissected it. Piece by piece.

His conclusion? The bill “totally fails” to protect religious liberty.

Ernst claims the DisRespect for Marriage Act does not provide a federal right for homosexual marriage. But Weber points out that by amending the current Defense of Marriage Act, which only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, and altering it to recognize any marriage recognized by a state (which includes same-sex marriage), the DisRespect for Marriage certainly does provide a federal right for same-sex marriage.

Ernst also claims the bill doesn’t enact Obergefell and states if Obergefell were overturned the bill would not stop any state from refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“This is also false,” Weber wrote. “By requiring states to recognize marriages entered into in other states, the RMA forces states to override their own public policy decisions. This would happen even if Obergefell were overturned.”

Ernst then makes the argument that RMA doesn’t require religious institutions to recognize same-sex marriage and claims for the first time federal law contains a specific protection for religious non-profit organizations from being forced to provide goods, services or accommodations in connection with the celebration of a homosexual marriage.

Weber said the protection is “irrelevant” because no churches and religious schools are currently forced to perform these marriages.

“The real concerns are with everything else surrounding one’s beliefs about marriage — such as a religious college that wants to enforce a code of conduct in its dorms to prohibit ‘couples’ of the same sex,” he wrote. “Such an exercise of one’s beliefs about marriage is NOT protected by the current text of the RMA, which only protects acs related to “the solemnization or celebration of a ‘marriage’ and only certain categories of potential victims at that.”

Ernst claims the RMA prohibits any litigation for such a denial and that a church or religious school refusing to hold or cater a homosexual wedding or related celebration is “explicitly protected” from a lawsuit.

But Weber said that doesn’t actually protect faith-based schools. The bill only protects entities “whose principal purpose is the study, practice or advancement of religion.”

“Those who don’t fit that definition won’t be protected,” Weber wrote. “Further, it only protects them in the context of solemnizing marriages. But no one is forcing adoption agencies to solemnize marriages. They are forcing them to modify the way they conduct their operations, which is driven by their beliefs about marriage — such as not wanting to place children with same-sex couples. Such an exercise of one’s beliefs about marriage is not protected by the current text of the Respect for Marriage Act (which only protects acts related to “the solemnization or celebration of a marriage”). So, claiming that religious schools are protected from lawsuits and don’t actually need protection makes this argument irrelevant and weak.”

Ernst’s continual claim that the bill applies only to government actors and not private individuals or churches was also shredded by Weber.

“This is irrelevant to the main point, which is that this bill still leaves religious entities hanging out to dry. The “under color of law” requirement applies to government recognition of same-sex marriages as discussed in Section 4 of the Respect for Marriage Act and does not directly apply to the rest of the bill,” Weber wrote. “The fact that the religious liberty protections in Section 6 are too narrow and do NOT include people like baker Jack Phillips still stands as a major point of concern in and of itself. It doesn’t matter whether Phillips is considered a government actor. As these narrow protections are evaluated by courts and decision-making authorities, the very passage of the bill itself will give courts more reason to find a “compelling government interest” and a national public policy that they can use to overrule religious freedom claims. Jack Phillips and people like him are not given protection under this bill, period!”

Weber also wrote that the bill creates new grounds to sue churches, non-profit religious organizations and people of faith based on their religious beliefs because it fails to protect them.

Ernst is telling Iowans she supported Sen. Mike Lee’s amendment which would indeed have strengthened the religious liberty protections in the bill, but she did not insist on it being included for her to support the bill overall.

“Here I can say the same things about Senator Ernst that I can say about Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.): Senator Ernst only voted for the Lee amendment as part of a stand-alone vote. She refused to make its adoption a condition of her support for the underlying bill,” Weber wrote. “If she felt the Lee amendment was necessary, she would have voted against the overall bill on final passage, because it did not include the Lee amendment. Based on her votes, Senator Ernst did not believe the people Lee’s amendment would have protected — like Jack Phillips and florist Barronelle Stutzman — deserve protection in this bill. If she had taken a stronger position on the Lee amendment, she could have forced its inclusion into the final legislation.”

While a person can claim the protections are new, Weber said they are “woefully inadequate and leave victims vulnerable to lawsuits or government punishment.”


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