Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 09:45 am (CNA).
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-169 to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
A total of 219 Democrats, along with 39 Republicans, voted “yea” to the bill. One hundred sixty-nine Republicans voted against it. One Republican voted “present” — neither yes or no — and four Republicans were recorded as not voting.
The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.
Minutes before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, called the act a “historic step forward in Democrats’ fight to defend the dignity and equality of every American.”
“Today we stand up for the values the vast majority of Americans hold dear, a belief in the dignity, beauty, and divinity — divinity, a spark of divinity in every person — and abiding respect for love so powerful that it binds two people together,” the Democrat from California said.
While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states.
The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.
“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.
“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”
A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”
Democrats blocked an amendment Monday offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.
DOMA, which the bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
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