Bishops reiterate Church’s ‘firm opposition’ to Respect for Marriage Act

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

Editor’s note: The U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act Nov. 29 by a 61-36 vote.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees have reiterated to Congress the U.S. bishops' " firm opposition" to the "misnamed" the Respect for Marriage Act.

In a Nov. 23 joint letter to all members of Congress, the chairmen said they were writing "to implore Congress to reverse course" on H.R. 8404, also known as RMA.

Issuing the letter were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

Bishop Robert E. Barron

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed into Law by President Bill Clinton. It barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2013. The bill would codify the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell that found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

The push in Congress to codify a right to same-sex marriage in federal law followed an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in the Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

"Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction," Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Barron said. "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."

In a Nov. 17 statement, Cardinal Dolan called the bill "a bad deal for the many courageous Americans of faith and no faith who continue to believe and uphold the truth about marriage in the public square today.

"It is deeply concerning that the U.S. Senate has voted to proceed toward potential passage of the Respect for Marriage Act," he said. "(It) does not strike a balance that appropriately respects our nation's commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty."

In their joint letter, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Barron said that measure's "rejection of timeless truths about marriage is evident on its face and in its purpose." They repeated the cardinal's earlier point that it "would also betray our country’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty."

An amendment to the bill says it "protects all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law, including but not limited to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and prevents this bill from being used to diminish or repeal any such protection."

It also "confirms that nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage."

The amendment was worked out by a bipartisan group of negotiators – headed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine – who had asked the Senate for more time to consider "an amendment designed to respond to the concerns of GOP lawmakers who feared the legislation could put churches and other religious institutions at legal risk if Congress voted to codify same-sex marriage rights."

With the amendment, 12 Republicans joined every Democrat in supporting the marriage bill.

"If passed, 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," Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Barron said.

"This bill is needless and harmful, and must be voted down," they said. "At the same time, Congress, and our nation as a whole, must resolve to foster a culture where every individual, as a child of God, is treated with respect and compassion."

The U.S. House passed the bill July 19 with a large, bipartisan vote of 267-157. Since the measure passed the Senate as amended, it goes back to the House for another vote.