- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tuesday endorsed the pending Respect for Marriage Act, a bill in the Senate that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage in federal law.

“We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” said the statement posted on the Utah-based church’s website.

“We believe this approach is the way forward. As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”

The 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision struck down bans on same-sex marriage nationally.

The new bill is sparked by supporters’ fears that the justices could overturn that decision, citing the 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade on abortion rights.

Several senators of both parties said in a joint statement that the Senate version now contains an amendment with “commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”

The amendment “protects all religious liberty and conscience protections” under the Constitution and Federal law, including the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and protects the tax-exempt status of groups that oppose same-sex marriage.

Backers also said it exempts non-profit religious organizations from providing “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

The statment was issued by Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and by Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Two of the three Republicans signatories — Mr. Portman and Mr. Tillis — did not seek re-election and will not be in the Senate come January.

The endorsement of the marriage bill, which needs 60 votes to pass the Senate, represents the latest step in the LDS church’s evolution on same-sex marriage.

In 2008, the group — popularly known as the Mormon Church — donated money and engaged members to support California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In recent years, state legislation replicating the “Utah Compromise,” in which the state passed legislation barring discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in housing and the workplace alongside religious liberty protections, have been enacted in several states.

The state’s representatives in the House voted in July to support the bill, with Rep. John Curtis, Utah Republican and an LDS Church member, saying, “I do not believe the federal government should infringe upon an individual’s decision about who they wish to marry.”

The Washington Times has contacted for comment the offices of both Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney — both Utah Republicans and active members of the LDS Church.

According to Jana Riess, a church member and author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church,” the group’s endorsement of the Respect for Marriage Act is a change from its 2008 position supporting a California ban.

However, she said, the church is conscious that it has to navigate between a more accepting culture in the United States and those in other nations where same-sex marriage has little or no acceptance.

Other groups are less sanguine about the bill’s effects.

The Religious Freedom Institute said the bill would threaten the “tax-exempt status of religious organizations that hold to their convictions about marriage as the union of husband and wife.”

Tom Farr, the group’s president, said in a statement that “this law would intentionally subject millions of religious Americans, and the tens of thousands of religious institutions they represent, to ruinous lawsuits in federal courts.”

In a mass email, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said the religious liberty protections added to the bill are insufficient.

“The measure goes much further than proponents claim of ‘status quo’ on marriage,” Mr. Perkins said. “Despite claims that religious liberty threats have been addressed, the measure will be a green light to LGBTQ activists to continue their witch hunts against Christian business owners under the guise of the ‘law.’  It supercharges these attacks on religious freedom by creating a ‘right of private action,’ arming any private activist with the ability to bring harassing lawsuits that could take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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