Back in July, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) says he got duped by supporters of the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act, and is warning every U.S. senator who will listen to turn back from supporting it as a final vote approaches.
“This [bill] actually destroys religious freedom and the ability to enforce religious freedom,” Perry, head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. “And that’s why they’re doing this. So I want to encourage my friends on the Senate side of the building to not be fooled. Anything less than the Mike Lee amendment is going to be unacceptable. So if the Democrats don’t allow that amendment to be in order and for that amendment to pass, they absolutely must vote no.”
Perry said after his July yes vote, he quickly realized his mistake after delving into the bill and hearing rebukes from fellow conservatives.
On Nov. 16, the Senate—with 12 Republicans joining 50 Democrats in a 62-37 vote to end debate—moved to advance the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act,” setting it up for a vote soon.
Championed by Democratic Party leaders, the Respect for Marriage Act would firmly establish same-sex marriage in federal law in an attempt to fend off challenges to the constitutionality of the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling legalizing the practice nationwide.
Billed as a compromise measure, conservatives have opposed the bill on grounds it only pays lip service to religious liberty concerns and would lead to a cascade of legal woes for private citizens, including business owners, who oppose same-sex marriage, and threaten ministries despite some language claiming protections for nonprofits.
According to a report in FRC’s Washington Stand, Perry said the House version didn’t get the typical committee vetting before going to a floor vote. Caught flat-footed and being told a “no” vote would be a vote against interracial marriage (which the bill also addresses), Perry says he thought his pro-family, pro-marriage record would make it clear where he stands.
“Look, they’re doing the same thing in the Senate that they did in the House,” he told Perkins on FRC’s “Washington Watch” broadcast. “The bill did not come through committee in the House. It went directly to the floor. We didn’t have a lot of information on it when they were calling for the vote.”
Since then, the House Freedom Caucus Perry leads has been clear about where it stands on the Respect for Marriage Act. The caucus urged senators last week:
“This vote is about more than culture. It is about affirming the self-evident truth that marriage is a natural institution that predates government,” they wrote. “Republicans must stand united in defense of that truth and the institution of marriage, which forms the backbone of a healthy society. There can be no compromise on this question.”
During his interview with Perry, Perkins observed that the bill would have devastating consequences for school boards hoping to stop the LGTBQ agenda.
“This is by design,” Perry told Perkins. “I would encourage any of those senators—if they have any reservation at all—they should contact me. I’m happy to talk to them about the thought process through this.”
Writing at the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, Roger Severino asked, “How did Senate liberals convince 12 Republicans to break ranks and endorse a same-sex marriage bill that puts a giant target on people of faith?
Severino wrote that the support of religious organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Mormon Church caused some senators to think they would be able to answer any concerns among their constituents. In an email to Decision, the National Association of Evangelicals clarified that although it supports the religious freedom protections in the bill, it does not endorse the bill as a whole.
Severino outlines some falsehoods he believes supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act have spread.
One of the most egregious is the claim that ministries’ tax-exempt status won’t be threatened.
“Although the bill clarifies through a rule of construction that it does not, by its own operation, revoke tax-exempt status for dissenting religious organizations, it gives ample grounds for the IRS and any other tax authority to do the actual dirty work,” if they see a compelling government interest to do so, Severino wrote.
The solution, Severino argues, is affirmative language, such as that stated in Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) proposed amendment that would spell out that “the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially” on the basis of that person’s sincere beliefs on marriage nor alter an organization’s tax status because of such beliefs.
Additionally, Severino writes that the claim that the bill rules out polygamous marriages is only partly true.
“The bill leaves open the possibility,” he says, “that one person can be in multiple two-person marriages at the same time, which would trigger federal recognition if a state legally were to recognize such consensual, bigamous unions as separate family units.”
“This [bill] is a gratuitous swipe at people of faith that can’t be recast as doing them a favor,” Severino wrote.
Meanwhile, Lee, the Utah senator, and 20 of his colleagues are urging the 12 GOP senators who voted to advance the bill to reverse course and vote no if Lee’s amendment with strong safeguards for religious liberty is rejected.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) supported the Respect for Marriage Act. NAE supports the religious liberty protections in the bill but not the bill as a whole. We apologize for the error.