(AP) — Among American religious leaders and faiths, there are sharp differences over the bill being advanced in the Senate that would protect same-sex and interracial marriages in federal law. The measure, a high priority for congressional Democrats, won a key test vote Wednesday, Nov. 16, when 12 Senate Republicans joined all Democrats in forwarding the bill for a final vote in the coming days. At least 10 GOP senators were needed for this to happen.

On Tuesday, one of the most prominent conservative denominations – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – spoke out in favor of the legislation. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention remain opposed, saying the bill — even with a new amendment aimed at drawing Republican support — is a serious threat to religious liberty.

The Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, December 18, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

An overriding concern for these leaders of the nation’s two largest faiths is that even the updated bill would not protect religious schools or faith-based nonprofits such as adoption and foster care providers.

The bill “is an intentional attack on the religious freedom of millions of Americans who have sincere beliefs about marriage, based on precepts of faith in God,” said leaders of the Missouri Baptist Convention, an affiliate of the SBC, in a letter to the United States this week. Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri. The letter failed to sway Blunt; he voted for the bill.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, dismissed the bipartisan amendment as failing even the “meagre goal” of preserving the status quo by balancing religious freedom with the right to same-sex marriage.

“The bill will be another arrow in the quiver of those who wish to deprive religious organizations of the freedom to freely exercise their religious duties, deprive them of their tax exemptions, or exclude them from full participation in the public sphere,” Dolan said earlier. this week.

Meanwhile, many center-left faith leaders are applauding the bill, including some who have planned a Thursday morning rally at the U.S. Capitol. Sponsors of the rally include the Interfaith Alliance, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ Justice, and local church and Hindu human rights ministries.

“This is common sense legislation that offers religious freedom to all, not just the few,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia, executive director of Religions for Peace USA. “Faith communities should strive to live the principles of marriage enshrined in their own faith without imposing their religious views on people of other faiths and without faith.”

The bill was approved in the House in July. A final Senate vote is expected soon, and the measure — if approved — would then return to the House for consideration of Senate amendments. The bill has gained momentum since the Supreme Court’s June decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion. An opinion issued at the time by Judge Clarence Thomas suggested that an earlier High Court ruling protecting same-sex marriage could also be at risk.

Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, noted the courts’ views in her statement praising Wednesday’s vote. She called the legislation “a vital step in our nation’s march toward freedom without favor and equality without exception.”

The legislation included a proposed Senate amendment, designed to rally more Republicans, clarifying that it does not affect the rights of individuals or businesses that are already enshrined in law. Another tweak would clarify that a marriage is between two people, an effort to stave off some far-right criticism that the legislation may condone polygamy.

However, many conservative religious leaders scoffed at the changes.

“The Senate’s new amended bill — the ‘common sense’ bill that ‘protects Americans’ religious liberties’ — in fact does no such thing,” wrote Reverend Al Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in an opinion piece. “What remains wide open is the threat to ministries such as Christian orphanages and child care, as well as adoption and foster care ministries.”

Southern Baptist public policy branch chief Brent Leatherwood of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission blamed supporters of the Senate bill for pushing legislation “that will only divide us.”

“We oppose this bill because marriage is a God-created institution with a very specific design: a union between a man and a woman for life,” Leatherwood said via email.

Pastor Jack Hibbs, who runs Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, an evangelical megachurch in Southern California, said the legislation “creates an atmosphere of great disrespect for marriage.”

“We’ve seen this in recent years, for example, with businesses that provide services for weddings, from wedding venues to bakeries and florists,” he said, adding that nonprofits could be prosecuted “because of their personal and fundamental beliefs, which should be protected by the First Amendment.

Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said the bill provides inadequate religious protections.

“I object to language like exceptions because it means we get a free pass to discriminate,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “But that’s not what we’re doing at all. We affirm that children need a mother and a father.

He acknowledged that leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “seem to be going in a different direction” regarding same-sex marriage. “But they’ve been very, very strong partners with us in trying to keep the focus on the need to preserve the family.”

In its statement Tuesday, the Utah-based LDS said church doctrine would continue to hold same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments, but would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they did not violate not religious groups. right to believe as they see fit.

Among the religious leaders who called for the bill to pass was the Reverend Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, an American Baptist pastor who is president of the Interfaith Alliance and is in a same-sex marriage.

“There is a misconception that faith and LGBTQ+ equality are fundamentally incompatible,” he wrote in an opinion piece published Wednesday by Religious News Service. “As a religious leader, I view this landmark legislation as an important contribution to America’s religious freedom,” he wrote. “More immediately, I am not prepared to leave the status of any marriages I have performed or my own to chance.”


AP Religion Team reporters Holly Meyer, Peter Smith, Deepa Bharath and Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report.

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