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VIEWPOINT: Marriage bill is disrespectful of religious liberty

By: Senator James Lankford

Marriage is an attraction, a union, a joyous relationship, a moral conviction, and a legal commitment all rolled into one. Marriage has great diversity in our society, but, based on our frequency of divorce, it also has a very high failure rate.

Not everyone has the same view of, or dedication to, marriage. But for many people of faith in our nation, God’s design for marriage is a core aspect of their faith, not a secondary doctrine. For centuries that view of marriage has not always been upheld, but it has always been respected.

Until now.  

Last week, the Senate passed—in spite of my opposition—what’s known as the Respect for Marriage Act.

In its 2015 decision in Obergefell, the US Supreme Court told states they must recognize same-sex marriages in the same way they recognize traditional marriages between a man and a woman. I disagreed with the Obergefell decision, but even President Obama at the time recognized that Americans of goodwill could disagree about marriage and that all opinions about marriage should be honored.

The bill creates a new right for any person who feels they have been “harmed” based on their marriage to sue any other person “acting under color of state law.” This will open the floodgates of litigation across the nation against faith-based organizations and individuals who work with local governments for foster care, healthcare, homeless shelters, adoption services, refugee care, and countless other ways.

Conveniently, the bill does not allow people of faith to counter-sue, if they feel they have been harmed by others who do not share their beliefs about traditional marriage.

The bill also protects all aspects of government services that are gained if they “arise from a marriage,” but it explicitly leaves out protections based on a “belief” about marriage. That may sound like splitting hairs, but in legal language that makes an enormous difference.

The problems in the bill text were not accidental. They were carefully written to exclude religious and conscience protections for individuals, nonprofits, and businesses.

I am respectful that many Americans do not share my Christian faith or my views, which is why I work to make sure every Oklahoman is treated equally and that they are respected under the law. I expect others will do the same and that they will recognize that for millions of Americans, living out their faith is not a hobby they practice on weekends, it is the dominant part of their personal and business life. 

I filed an amendment and demanded a vote in the Senate with specific language that would protect the rights of all individuals, regardless of their belief. But I narrowly lost that amendment by a handful of votes.

It is my fear that lawsuits may be already lining up to silence anyone who may disagree. Time will tell.

In the meantime, each of us should love all people sincerely and live faithfully. We are a nation still working on becoming a more perfect union.