During a press conference Monday, EWTN correspondent Owen Jensen asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about Biden’s response to religious organizations that fear they will be targeted or discriminated against by the government for supporting traditional marriage.
“When you look at this piece of legislation that has been passed, it actually addresses also the question that you’re asking and takes that into account,” Jean-Pierre said. “Tomorrow is going to be a really important day for many Americans, millions of Americans across the country.”
In its text, the RFMA states that it protects “religious liberty and conscience.”
“Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or federal law,” it reads.
It adds: “Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, nonprofit religious organizations … shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”
In a November letter to Congress, the U.S. Catholic bishops stated that the bill does not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.
“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester reads.
“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasize. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”
A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”
Before the final House vote, Democrats blocked an amendment offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
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The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.
During her remarks Tuesday, Harris condemned the Dobbs ruling.
“The Dobbs decision reminds us that fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right [to] marry who you love, the right to access contraception, and the right to make decision[s] about your own body,” she said.
DOMA, which the law repeals, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Katie Yoder is a correspondent in CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She covers pro-life issues, the U.S. Catholic bishops, public policy, and Congress. She previously worked for Townhall.com, National Review, and the Media Research Center.