According to a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the advocates of marriage between one man and one woman "are increasingly having their religious freedoms jeopardized." On March 14, a joint statement released by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, signaled support for the First Amendment Defense Act as a "modest and important measure” because it protects those who believe marriage is “the union of one man and one woman.” The measured was recently re-introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
The USCCB's statement said that the bishops' group "has been vocal in support of the legislation since its inception.” Archbishop Kurtz chairs the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, while Bishop Conley is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
They said the First Amendment Defense Act “is a modest and important measure that protects the rights of faith-based organizations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” According to the bishops, those who support marriage as the union of one man and one woman “are increasingly having their religious freedoms jeopardised and even forfeited.”
“In a pluralistic society,” they wrote, “faith-based charitable agencies and schools should not be excluded from participation in public life by loss of licenses, accreditation or tax-exempt status because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government’s view.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 decision in June 2015 decision that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states.
Nevertheless, the Catholic bishops underscored that they will continue "to promote and protect the natural truth of marriage as foundational to the common good,” they said. “The church will also continue to stand for the ability of all to exercise their religious beliefs and moral convictions in public life without fear of government discrimination.”
“In a climate of increasing intolerance, these protections are urgently needed,” Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Conley wrote. “The teaching of the Catholic Church about marriage is based on both faith and reason. Using right reason, one can know that given the nature of the human person, created as male and female, marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” they said.
According to Sen. Lee, “What an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is not – and should never be – a part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations, or grants.” In a statement on his website, Lee said, “And the First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always be true in America – that federal bureaucrats will never have the authority to require those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage to choose between their living in accordance with those beliefs and maintaining their occupation or their tax status.”
The senator's website said that the amendment would prohibit the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals or institutions based on their definition of marriage or beliefs about premarital sex. It creates a cause of action in federal court for individuals or institutions that have been discriminated against by the government. Plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and compensatory damages.
There are currently 21 co-sponsors on the Senate bill, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jim Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), Ben Sasse (R-NE), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Thune (R-SD), Rand Paul (R-KY), David Perdue (R-GA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Boozman (R-AR), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).
The ACLU and other advoccy groups oppose the bill. “The First Amendment Defense Act is harmful legislation that would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination and undermine key civil rights protections for LGBTQ people,” said David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s government affairs director, in a press release. “Supporters of this legislation are using religious liberty as a sword to hurt LGBTQ families rather than staying true to our long tradition of it serving as a shield to protect religious expression from government overreach.”