Cornyn: Without Changes, Respect for Marriage Act Tramples on Religious Liberties

November 28, 2022

While this bill does not move the needle on same-sex marriage, this legislation will raise serious issues for religious liberty.

Unlike Obergefell, this legislation expressly empowers private litigants to sue religious institutions, faith-based organizations, and private parties who oppose, for sincerely held religious beliefs, same-sex marriage.

If the goal of the bill is to preserve religious liberty, I think the bill needs to be amended. Religious liberty is the cornerstone of our democracy. It's explicitly protected by the United States Constitution, and we cannot allow it to be trampled on.

WASHINGTON – Today on the floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed how the Respect for Marriage Act threatens religious liberty and called on Leader Schumer to allow votes on amendments that would protect the rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage. Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below, and video can be found here.

“As the Senate knows, this week we will be voting on a bill called the Respect for Marriage Act. Tonight, we’ll vote on a procedural matter to move that legislation along. Supporters of this legislation have framed it as a way to protect the right of same-sex couples to get married in any state in America. To be clear, that is already the law of the land.”

“While this bill does not move the needle on same-sex marriage, this legislation will raise serious issues for religious liberty. We all know that many Americans hold sincere beliefs, religious beliefs, objecting to same-sex marriage. Obergefell did not place any new requirement on those individuals or their religious institutions. The Obergefell decision coexists today with other Supreme Court precedents like Masterpiece Cakeshop, or Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, or Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.” 

“Each of these decisions recognized that religious liberties shall and must be protected as required by our Constitution, namely the Equal Protection Clause.”

“If the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law as it is currently proposed without amendment, that would change. Unlike Obergefell, this legislation expressly empowers private litigants to sue religious institutions, faith-based organizations, and private parties who oppose, for sincerely held religious beliefs, same-sex marriage.”

“Individuals and organizations that are trying to do good works consistent with their faith would be forced to spend a small fortune defending themselves in court, just as the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop did for ten years. This legislation could open the door for the government to take serious action against religious institutions for adhering to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Cities and states could deny foster care permits and licenses to religious organizations that do an immeasurable amount of good, including Catholic Charities, Little Sisters of the Poor, or Buckner International. The Internal Revenue Service could seek to revoke the tax exempt status of organizations that fail to comply with this new secular mandate.”

“I believe the proponents of this legislation thought they were protecting and preserving the religious liberties of people with sincerely held religious beliefs, but when they include a private right of action for someone acting ‘under color of state law,’ it refers to any public act, any right or claim. And as I said, you can interpret ‘color of state law’ to cover everything from professional licensing to teaching certificates to building permits to food and beverage licenses.”

“If the proponents of this legislation really believe that protecting religious liberty should be our goal, the best way to accomplish that is to allow votes on these amendments by Senator Lee, Senator Rubio, and Senator Lankford, who provided an extra clear assurance that this legislation does not constitute a national policy endorsing a specific view of marriage.”

“If the goal of the bill is to preserve religious liberty, I think the bill needs to be amended. Religious liberty is the cornerstone of our democracy. It’s explicitly protected by the United States Constitution, and we cannot allow it to be trampled on.”