GRAPEVINE—In the wake of the U.S. House of Representatives voting to pass the Respect for Marriage Act last month, the executive leadership of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is calling on leaders and pastors to oppose its passage in the Senate.
The bill, which passed in the House on July 19 by a vote of 267–157, is an attempt to enshrine the legal protections of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges into federal law by conjoining state definitions of marriage with federal protections.
SBTC Associate Executive Director Tony Wolfe sent an email to convention leaders and pastors Tuesday asking them to oppose H.R. 8404. Specifically, SBTC leadership is asking individuals to sign their names to a letter written by Alliance Defending Freedom which urges senators to oppose H.R. 8404.
Cindy Asmussen, public policy advisor to the SBTC’s Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (TERLC), said the consequences of the Respect for Marriage Act would be monumental because one state’s decision to expand the definition or protections of marriage would inherently affect other states.
“Under this bill, if even one state recognizes polygamy, polyamory, relative marriage, arranged marriage, lowering the age of consent to accommodate child marriage, or any other union, then every state would be forced to recognize it,” Asmussen said. “All tax deductions, welfare benefits, employee benefits, immigration status, and many other benefits and legal rights pertaining to marriage and families would automatically be granted.”
If passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden, H.R. 8404 would overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The bill would also jeopardize the tax-exempt status of religious non-profits that hold to a historic Christian position on marriage, and it would endanger any religious organization whose business practices overlap with the government.
“The Respect for Marriage Act effectively deputizes interest groups to sue religious individuals, organizations, and businesses that operate according to sincerely held beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that also act ‘under color of state law,’” the Alliance Defending Freedom letter reads. “Private organizations such as faith-based foster care providers and religious social service organizations that participate in a joint activity with the state or whose operations are entwined with government policies, will likely face litigation for merely practicing their faith.”
The bill is currently before the Senate, meaning it could come to a vote at any time. While passage of a bill in the Senate requires only a simple majority, the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to end debate on a bill and move it to a vote means Democrats will need to swing at least 10 Republican votes.
Dan Darling, who leads the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Seminary and joined as a signer of the ADF letter, told the Texan that the Christian defense of biblical marriage is rooted in the imago dei and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.
“Loving our neighbors means working for their human flourishing, and marriage between men and women is a foundational building block of society that is integral to that flourishing,” Darling said. “This bill not only enshrines the redefinition of the family into law, but it also fails to offer protections for religious institutions who adhere to their 2,000-year-old teachings on the meaning of marriage. It is one more tool in the hands of the state that marginalizes those who dissent from the sexual revolution.”
SBTC leaders are asking that as many people as possible sign the letter by Friday, September 2, although people can sign as late as September 9.
“At its most foundational level, God’s good design for marriage is as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman. Marriage is much more than a social construct or a legal contract,” Wolfe said. “The Respect for Marriage Act does not respect this biblical design at all.”