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The ‘Respect For Marriage Act’ Is An Exercise In Tyranny, And Everyone Knows It

The 12 Republicans who voted to advance the bill last week are gaslighting the American public about its real purpose.

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It’s not hard to game out what happens if the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act passes, codifying Obergefell and enshrining gay marriage in federal law. Everyone, including the dozen Republican senators who voted to advance the legislation last week, knows exactly what will happen. It’s not some big mystery. 

What will happen is this: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who dares maintain that marriage is a lifelong conjugal union between one man and one woman — the definition of marriage for thousands of years until the U.S. Supreme Court descended from Mount Sinai with Obergefell v. Hodges inscribed on stone tablets — will be branded a bigot and driven from the public square and marketplace.

Anyone who owns a small business related to the wedding industry — photographers, bakers, website designers, venue owners, caterers, florists — will be sued into oblivion if they refuse services to same-sex couples. Religious colleges and universities will lose their tax-exempt status. Religious institutions of every kind, if they hold to their teachings and traditions about marriage, will face an onslaught from the Department of Justice and the federal bureaucracy. 

To paraphrase George Orwell’s famous line, if you want a picture of the future under the Respect for Marriage Act, imagine a boot stamping on Jack Phillips’ face — forever. 

The untrammeled exercise of power and the vigorous crushing of dissent is the entire purpose of the proposed law. There can be no other possible justification for it. Michael New, an assistant professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, recently told The Daily Signal that Catholic colleges and universities in particular might face ruinous lawsuits and loss of federal funding if the bill is signed into law.

“Suppose a Catholic college refused to allow a same-sex married couple to live in college owned graduate student housing for families, they might be subject to all kinds of litigation,” he said. “Such a college might lose its nonprofit status. Their students might lose eligibility for federal financial aid and their faculty might lose eligibility from research grants from government agencies.”

Well, yes. Of course all that would happen. Democrats and left-wing activists hear these kinds of concerns from people like New and think, “Good. Let them face ruinous litigation. Let them lose funding. Ghettoize them. Crush them. Grind their institutions into dust. They deserve it, the bigots.”

All the more appalling, then, that 12 Republican senators voted to advance the bill knowing full well what it will do. One wishes the explanation is just that these lawmakers are too stupid to understand what the purpose of the proposed law really is and what its effect will obviously be, but that’s wishful thinking.

If they’re going to support this bill, though, do they have to pretend that we’re all too stupid to understand how it will work? Does Dan Sullivan, the second-worst U.S. senator from Alaska, who once supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the long-ago of 2014, really believe that the Respect for Marriage Act makes “important advances” in religious liberty?

Does Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who 10 years ago as speaker of the statehouse supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in his state, really think the anemic amendments he and other GOP senators offered to the bill will “advance religious freedom” and “age well”?

All the Republicans who voted to advance the bill last week issued some version of the nonsense Sullivan and Tillis spouted. None of them believe a word of it. They just hope you buy it.

But you don’t have to. Roger Severino of the Heritage Foundation helpfully walked through these specious claims one by one, explaining why they’re wrong. No, the bill won’t provide religious institutions with meaningful protections. Yes, the bill could certainly be used as a basis for the Internal Revenue Service to deny tax-exempt status to religious organizations that don’t toe the line on gay marriage. Yes, it could also be used to deny grants, licenses, or contracts. No, weak language about preserving the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not enough to prevent harm to religious liberty. And so on.

The justification for the bill is just as outlandish and offensive as the argument that it presents no danger to religious Americans. In the wake of the Dobbs decision this summer, we were warned that some future Supreme Court opinion, following Justice Clarence Thomas’s logic, could overturn Obergefell and other substantive due process rulings such as Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws banning interracial marriage.

The purpose of this claim, in case it isn’t bone-crushingly obvious, is to lump opponents of gay marriage in with opponents of interracial marriage, to smear them as bigots who aren’t just on the wrong side of history, but who are about to be on the receiving end of a federal government empowered to go after them.

And if you think that can’t really be how proponents of the Respect for Marriage Act think about traditional-minded Americans, go ask Jack Phillips how he’s faring after winning his Supreme Court case in 2018.


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