Senate Rejects Lee Religious Liberty Amendment, Passes So-Called ‘Respect for Marriage Act’

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The Senate rejected Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) religious liberty amendment, as well as amendments from Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl), and passed the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” (RFMA) on Tuesday evening.

The same-sex marriage bill passed 61-36 with the help of the same 12 Senate Republicans who initially voted with Democrats to advance the bill. The legislation will now go back to the House for a vote as early as next Tuesday, where it was first passed over the summer with the help of 47 Republicans.

The House GOP will have to decide whether they want to pass the RFMA with the newly added “No Impact on Religious Liberty and Conscience” amendment created by a bipartisan group of senators who say the text protects religious liberty. Critics of the added amendment, brought by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), say it will “provide nothing that is not already guaranteed” and is an “unnecessary piece of legislation that provides for lawsuits against those who simply hold a different view on marriage.”

Lee’s amendment was conservatives’ greatest hope of shoring up religious liberty protections in the bill, and would have prohibited the federal government from punishing individuals, organizations, nonprofits, and other entities based on their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions about marriage by prohibiting the denial or revocation of tax exempt status, licenses, contracts, benefits, etc.

“Who wouldn’t want to deny the federal government the authority to retaliate against religious individuals and institutions in a way that is categorically abusive,” Lee queried before the vote.

His amendment needed 60 votes and failed 48-49, though several of the 12 GOP senators who voted with Democrats to advance the bill voted in favor it. Lankford’s amendment, which needed a simple majority vote, was also rejected, 45-52, as was Rubio’s.

The RFMA was introduced following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, due to Democrats’ unfounded concerns that the Supreme Court could use the Dobbs decision to overrule the Court’s Obergefell gay marriage decisionOverall, the RFMA would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and would require the federal government to recognize any marriage that was “valid in the place where entered into.” The bill would additionally require every state to recognize every same-sex marriage that “is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into.”

The bill also has a “private right of action” clause, which would allow “any person who is harmed by a violation of subsection (b)…[to] bring a civil action in the appropriate district court of the United States against the person who violated such a subsection for declaratory and injunctive relief.” Likewise, attorneys general would be able to bring civil action against any person who violates the law.

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