WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity called Tuesday (July 26) for the U.S. Senate to oppose legislation that threatens to gain enough Republican support to codify same-sex marriage into law.
In a letter to all senators, Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), urged them to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act (H.R. 8404). The legislation would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and require federal and state recognition of same-sex marriages considered legal in the jurisdiction where they took place.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved the measure July 19 in a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining all the Democratic members in support. If enacted, the bill would essentially place into federal law the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized gay marriage, though critics warn it could go beyond that ruling to permit recognition of other types of unions.
The Respect for Marriage Act faces the challenge of needing 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and gain a floor vote, but several Republicans have indicated their willingness to support it. A survey of senators’ offices published by CNN showed five GOP members will vote for the bill or are likely to do so. If all Democrats support the legislation, only 10 Republicans are needed to cut off debate so a vote on the proposal can occur.
In conveying that the ERLC is “firmly opposed” to the legislation, Leatherwood told senators, “Marriage is an institution created by God, not by man. No individual or government has the authority or ability to supersede its design.”
He wrote, “Marriage requires the specific union of a man and a woman for life (Gen. 2:24). Attempts to misapply or expand the term beyond these distinct parameters go against God’s purpose and will lead people astray from what was meant for our flourishing.”
Religious freedom could be threatened and the definition of marriage could be expanded even beyond same-sex unions if the legislation is enacted, Leatherwood warned.
The bill “raises serious religious liberty concerns for individuals and organizations who maintain [the one-man, one-woman] view of marriage and are in contract with, funded by, or working jointly with the government,” he wrote.
“It also is unclear whether the [legislation] would codify federal recognition to civil marriages that go beyond the scope of two individuals in states that allow it,” Leatherwood wrote, citing the example of Massachusetts cities that legally recognize polygamous relationships. “Given that there’s no limiting principle in this bill, it could potentially include other marriage definitions that a state chooses to adopt.”
The issue “transcends electoral politics,” Leatherwood said in his letter. “For our churches, this is about human flourishing and love for our neighbors.”
Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s policy manager, told Baptist Press, “Regardless of how quickly our culture changes, we hold fast to the reality that marriage – the union of one man and one woman for life – is an institution created by God for our good and for the flourishing of our society.”
This bill “seeks to codify into law the redefinition and expansion of what marriage is designed to be and provides little protection for those who seek to uphold God’s design,” she said in written comments.