The House of Representatives passed the so-called Respect for Marriage Act on Thursday, threatening the religious liberty of Americans who believe marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman. All House Democrats were joined by 39 Republicans in the 258-169 vote. (See the full list below.) One congressman voted present.
H.R. 8404, which critics call the “Disrespect for Marriage” Act, would allow individuals to sue Christian businessowners who refuse to participate in same-sex ceremonies and threaten the tax-exempt status of religious nonprofits that do not recognize same-sex “marriages.” It will jeopardize the ability of Christian adoption agencies that do not place children with married same-sex couples. The bill would also force all 50 states to recognize any marriage contracted by another state, repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and endanger the tax-exempt status of faith-based nonprofits.
The bill now goes to President Joe Biden, who has promised to “promptly and proudly sign it into law.”
“Today is a dark day for religious freedom,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “The Left’s forces of religious hostility, aided by 12 Republican senators and 39 Republican representatives, advanced what history may ultimately record as one of the greatest assaults on religious freedom in modern history.”
The bill will disproportionately harm believing Christians, such as Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman, whose religion will not allow them to participate in same-sex nuptials. A Gallup poll reported people who “attend church weekly remain the primary demographic holdout against gay marriage,” with almost 60% opposed. This act creates a private right of action if the individual feels anyone has caused them “harm,” a term nebulous enough that skeptics say it will unleash a torrent of litigation. The bill will would tacitly liken biblical views of sexual morality to racism, resulting in Christians being “increasingly marginalized and cast out” of polite society, Perkins said.
“I will not support a bill that places a target on Christian or other faiths’ values,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.). “Today’s vote will place any traditional church’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy and will result in defunding and the exclusion of Christian-type adoption agencies.”
Similarly, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) grew teary-eyed as she called on Congress to “protect religious liberty, protect people of faith, and protect Americans who believe in the true meaning of marriage,” her voice swelling with emotion. “I hope and pray that my colleagues will find the courage to join me in opposing this misguided, this dangerous bill.”
Constitutional experts say the newly passed bill also violates key First Amendment guarantees. The Respect for Marriage Act “punishes the free exercise of religion,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute. “No American should be punished for holding a faith-based view on marriage, even if that view conflicts with the government’s current preferred definition.”
But Democrats celebrated the bill in quasi-religious language. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the bill reflected the “divinity” in every human being. Pelosi recognized former Rep. Barney Frank, an ultra-liberal Democrat who identifies as gay, who returned to the House chamber to witness the vote, before praising Harvey Milk, who had a sexual relationship with an adolescent. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), another LGBT-identifying congressman, said the legislation “put the equality of same-sex love in its rightful place: under the protection of federal law.”
Today’s vote marks the second time the Democrat-controlled chamber has voted in favor of the controversial bill, with its punitive sanctions toward people of faith. The House of Representatives originally passed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19 with 47 Republican votes. The U.S. Senate added a legally ambiguous religious liberty amendment before sending the bill back to the House last Tuesday, 61-36. The House adopted the amended bill.
The same-sex marriage bill became less popular the more time elected officials had to review it. Pelosi rushed the bill through the House in just one day. Eight House Republicans who voted in favor of the bill this summer changed their minds before Thursday’s vote. Seven former supporters voted against the final bill: Cliff Bentz (Ore.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Brian Mast (Fla.), Dan Meuser (Pa.), Maria Elvira Salazar (Fla.), Scott Perry (Pa.), and Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.). Burgess Owens (Utah) changed his vote from “yea” to “present.”
Most of those who had a change of heart about the bill did so after learning of its impact on religious believers and charities. Meuser explained, “This legislation went beyond marriage and weakens the religious freedoms which are fundamental to our nation.” Mast also cited religious liberty concerns, saying the job of Congress is “protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Reps. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who are leaving the House after the lame duck session, previously supported the bill but did not vote on Thursday.
“Herrera Beutler was facing a right-wing primary challenger over the summer,” reported Axios, implying she voted against the bill to pose as a conservative out of political expediency.
The highest-ranking Republican to vote for the bill was Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who replaced Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference, currently the third-ranking position in GOP House leadership, last May. But the newly elected House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (Minn.) will outrank Stefanik next year. Emmer and Stefanik will be the third- and fourth-ranked Republicans in the 118th Congress, respectively.
All elected officials, of any rank, who voted for the bill “have marked their departure from the U.S. pro-family movement,” Perkins said. “A lot of them are making a political calculation” that Christian churches are “asleep,” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) told Perkins on “Washington Watch” in July.
On the contrary, nationwide mobilization by Christians and constitutionalists cost the Respect for Marriage Act eight votes in the House and as many as 18 votes in the Senate, confounding the prediction of Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) that “you’ll see the strength of support grow throughout the debate.” Politico reported that, while “Republicans privately estimate perhaps 30 or so of their senators want the bill to pass, conservative backlash limited the whip count” to 12. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) delayed the vote until after the lame duck session of Congress to secure the “dirty dozen” Republicans.
Most of the Republican senators who voted for the bill were swayed by a secretive, $1.7 million pressure campaign from “influential Republican donors and operatives,” including its “most prominent gay leaders,” according to The New York Times. The behind-the-scenes initiative was spearheaded by former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, who managed the 2004 reelection campaign of George W. Bush, whose razor-thin victory came from Ohioans who voted for a same-sex marriage ban. “Valid and legal same-sex marriage is especially popular among critical voting blocs, like suburban voters, as well as young and middle-aged voters,” claimed a pollster with Mehlman’s group, Centerline Action. Notably, 89% of Americans oppose open marriages and three-quarters believe polyamory is immoral. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Mehlman’s work “gave Republicans who were on the bubble a sense of comfort” and “certainly helped get us over the magic number of 10” Republicans senators necessary to overcome the filibuster.
Technically, the House voted on the legislation twice on Thursday. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who had urged Republican senators to oppose the bill, objected to the House vote. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) motioned to reconsider its passage, but the House voted to table his motion 224-164, with 27 Republicans voting against reconsideration.
Pelosi, who lost control of Congress in the midterms, seemed delighted that “one of the final bills that I will sign in the enrollment will be this beautiful legislation,” which she believes puts her party on the right side of mystical, epochal forces. “Not only are we on the right side of history, we’re on the right side of the future,” she said at a press conference after the vote.
Yet the House’s radical contingent made clear it expects to further threaten Christians’ constitutional rights by more comprehensively redefining marriage and gender. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a democratic socialist, called on Congress to “build upon this progress.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called “on the Senate to pass the Equality Act,” which would formally strip religious people of most legal protections from lawsuits based on sexual preference or gender identity.
“This is the beginning,” Jayapal said.
Perkins agreed; the pro-family movement will not relent — and the truth will not yield — to left-wing pressure. “Whether by the court or by the Congress, truth cannot be altered — nor will our commitment to that truth,” Perkins concluded.
The 39 House Republicans who voted for final passage of the “Respect for Marriage” Act in December are:
- Kelly Armstrong (N.D.);
- Don Bacon (Neb.);
- Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.);
- Ken Calvert (Calif.);
- Kat Cammack (Fla.);
- Mike Carey (Ohio);
- Liz Cheney (Wyo.);
- John Curtis (Utah);
- Rodney Davis (Ill.);
- Tom Emmer (Minn.);
- Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.);
- Mike Gallagher (Wisc.);
- Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.);
- Mike Garcia (Calif.);
- Carlos Gimenez (Fla.);
- Tony Gonzales (Texas);
- Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio);
- Ashley Hinson (Iowa);
- Darrell Issa (Calif.);
- Chris Jacobs (N.Y.);
- David Joyce (Ohio);
- John Katko (N.Y.);
- Nancy Mace (S.C.);
- Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.);
- Peter Meijer (Mich.);
- Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa);
- Blake Moore (Utah);
- Dan Newhouse (Wash.);
- Jay Obernolte (Calif.);
- Tom Rice (S.C.);
- Mike Simpson (Idaho);
- Elise Stefanik (N.Y.);
- Bryan Steil (Wis.);
- Chris Stewart (Utah);
- Mike Turner (Ohio);
- Fred Upton (Mich.);
- David Valadao (Calif.);
- Ann Wagner (Mo.); and
- Michael Waltz (Fla.)
- Roy Blunt (Mo.);
- Richard Burr (N.C.);
- Shelley Moore Capito (W. Va.);
- Susan Collins (Maine);
- Joni Ernst (Iowa);
- Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.);
- Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) ;
- Rob Portman (Ohio);
- Mitt Romney (Utah);
- Dan Sullivan (Alaska);
- Thom Tillis (N.C.); and
- Todd Young (Ind.)