Faith groups press GOP for response to marriage ruling

Faith groups press GOP for response to marriage ruling
© Greg Nash

Congressional Republicans are coming under pressure to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage when they return to Washington next week.

Religious organizations aligned with the GOP are concerned the government will punish them for opposing same-sex marriage, and want lawmakers to put in place new protections for people with faith-based objections.

The groups are putting their lobbying energy behind the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would prohibit the government from retaliating against churches, schools and adoption agencies that only recognize heterosexual marriage.

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"Regardless of where you come down on the issue of same-sex marriage, we shouldn’t allow the federal government to punish religious institutions for their beliefs about marriage,” said Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFix the climate with smaller families Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (R-Utah), who introduced the legislation shortly before the Supreme Court ruling.

A number of GOP presidential candidates are backing the bill, including Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz slams Jim Carrey's 'vicious, angry' painting of Alabama governor after abortion ban Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults MORE (R-Texas), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean MORE (R-Fla.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Press: Justin Amash breaks ranks with party Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin MORE (R-S.C.). Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is sponsoring the same legislation in the House.

Groups such as the Family Research Council, Heritage Action for America, and National Organization for Marriage are pushing for votes on the bill, calling it a commonsense response to the high court’s ruling.

“It doesn’t change the definition of marriage,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council. “It simply protects those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“At the very least, the federal government should not turn around and punish those people,” Christensen added. “Even if the definition of marriage has changed, we don’t think people should be run out of the public square just because they believe in natural marriage."

The First Amendment Defense Act would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the tax exemptions, accreditation or licensing of faith-based institution because of their religious beliefs.

It has 69 co-sponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate. Conservative activists plan to press more Republicans to sign on to the legislation when they return for the July 4 recess.

While the bill would have a good chance at passing the House, it remains to be seen whether GOP leaders will move it to the front of the agenda.

Religious liberty legislation has proven controversial in the past, most recently in Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) faced a backlash and boycott threats for a law that critics said would have sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But that controversy was before the high court’s ruling, which Republicans say has changed the debate.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the third-ranking House Republican, plans to sign onto the First Amendment Defense Act next week, his office confirmed to The Hill, which could portend action in the lower chamber.

“I think the Supreme Court created a situation where it’s very difficult for Congress to just ignore this,” Christensen said. “Lawmakers are clearly feeling pressure to act on the issue of religious liberty."

Some conservative advocates fear the Supreme Court’s decision could infringe on the rights of pastors to preach against homosexuality or refuse to marry same-sex couples. They also worry that religious schools could lose their accreditation, and that faith-based adoption agencies could be stripped of licenses.

“There is a clear case to be made that the government is going after Christians,” said Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Still, others are concerned that Christian-run businesses could lose federal contracts.

“The issue is really about whether we have a right to live out our faith in public,” Lafferty said.

“What is a Christian business person going to be able to do?” she asked. "What will your children be taught in school? Can they be punished because they write a paper about traditional marriage?”

Another piece of religious freedom legislation — the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act sponsored by Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziKudos to the legislators trying to fix our broken budget On The Money: Mnuchin signals officials won't release Trump tax returns | Trump to hold off on auto tariffs | WH nears deal with Mexico, Canada on metal tariffs | GOP fears trade war fallout for farmers | Warren, regulator spar over Wells Fargo Budget chairs pick former Bush official to head CBO MORE (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa) — would protect religious adoption agencies.

“Catholic adoption agencies will probably go out of business if they’re told by the federal government they must place children in gay marriages, because that’s against their religious convictions,” said Tim Chapman, who heads up the lobbying efforts at Heritage.

While most of the focus from religious groups is on the First Amendment Defense Act, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act has attracted nine co-sponsors in the Senate and 78 in the House.

“You shouldn’t be discriminated against because of your religious beliefs,” Kelly told The Hill.

Cruz is pushing for more dramatic action, calling for the adoption of a constitutional amendment would allow states to redefine marriage as between one man and one woman.

“Religious liberty is about protecting people not only within the four walls of church, but outside in their daily lives,” said Roger Severino, who oversees religious liberty and marriage issues at Heritage.