More than 80 leading conservative groups on Tuesday urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a letter to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act, arguing that the House-passed bill would go beyond codifying same-sex marriage and imperil religious freedom.
The letter, led by the Alliance Defending Freedom, said H.R. 8404 would force the federal government to recognize any state’s definition of marriage, including polygamy; expose faith-based groups and individuals to predatory lawsuits; and endanger the tax-exempt status of religious organizations.
“We call on you to reject H.R. 8404 and to urge your colleagues to thoroughly abandon this harmful and unnecessary legislation,” the letter reads. “It has little to do with protecting rights; its text betrays an intent to stigmatize and take rights away — especially those belonging to people of faith.”
The signers represent a who’s who of conservative leaders and organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, the Ethics & Public Policy Center, Samaritan’s Purse, the First Liberty Institute, the Coalition for Jewish Values, CatholicVote and the American Principles Project.
The proposed legislation “goes far beyond merely codifying same-sex marriage in federal law,” the letter reads. “It is a startling expansion of what marriage means — and who may be sued if they disagree.”
The House passed the legislation July 19 by 267-157, with 47 Republicans supporting the measure, as Democrats seek to change the subject ahead of the midterm elections from inflation and gasoline prices to hot-button social issues such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
Sponsors said the bill was spurred by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson calling for the high court to reconsider precedents decided on the basis of “substantive due process,” including the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage.
“The truth is, while H.R. 8404 does nothing to change the status of, or benefits afforded to, same-sex marriage in light of Obergefell, it does much to endanger people of faith,” the letter states.
The bill has garnered the support of a handful of Senate Republicans, led by Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio, but 10 would be needed to reach the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, called the bill “another example of Democrats creating a state of fear over an issue in order to further divide Americans for their political benefit,” but he told Wisconsin Public Radio that “I see no reason to oppose it.”
The conservative leaders offered up several reasons. The bill, which would repeal the now-dormant 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, would require states to recognize marriages performed in other states “without any parameters whatsoever,” the letter states.
“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,” the letter reads. “Such recognition impacts a myriad of federal laws and policies regarding marriage, its benefits, and rights of parents and children.”
The conservatives also warned that the measure would result in a host of new lawsuits against Christian bakers, florists, photographers and others who decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies, as well as religious-based foster care agencies, social services and government contractors.
In addition, the bill could provide support for stripping the tax-exempt status of religious nonprofits “if they continue to adhere to their belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman,” the letter states.
“During the Supreme Court’s Obergefell oral argument, then-U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli ‘candidly acknowledged’ that if the Court created a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, ‘the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question,’” the letter says. “H.R. 8404 creates the foundation for fulfilling this warning by implicitly giving the IRS congressional support to punish religious non-profits.”
The signers include the Colorado Christian University think tank Centennial Institute, which launched a national campaign Tuesday urging voters to contact their senators in opposition to the bill.
“This is a continued effort to make sex and gender irrelevant in our society,” said Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt. “Conservatives should not abandon defense of traditional marriage.”
On the other side was the gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans, which cited a Gallup poll released last month showing that 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage, including 55% of Republicans.
“Conservatives are winning the culture wars on issues like Title IX and gender ideology in classrooms – issues on which LGBT conservatives and the Republican Party are fully united. We cannot afford the distraction of relitigating the marriage equality debate,” said Log Cabin President Charles T. Moran in a Monday op-ed for USA Today.
The signers of Tuesday’s letter include a host of state conservative advocacy groups, Christian education associations and religious colleges.