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Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill with Religious Liberty Amendments Voted Down

The Senate passed the so-called Respect for Marriage Act on Tuesday, without any of the three amendments that conservatives sought to protect religious freedom and rights of conscience.

The bill, which writes gay marriage into federal law and repeals key parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), carves out protection for churches that object to hosting same-sex weddings but will unleash a rash of litigation and violates constitutional religious liberty protections, conservatives argue.

Critics of the bill say Christian schools and other faith-based nonprofits are left legally vulnerable under the act, as well as private business owners, government employees and others who hold Biblical marriage views.

“This is a discouraging development in our country’s storied history of protecting the free exercise of religion,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said following the vote. “While I’m disappointed that my amendment was not included, I remain committed to preserving the religious liberties enshrined in our Constitution for all Americans.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said following the vote: “The Respect for Marriage Act isn’t about equality. It’s about making some people’s rights more important than others. I voted against this bill because it will lead to violations of Americans’ constitutional right to live their faith.”

“People of faith will neither forget today’s vote nor despair. Rather, they will recommit to protecting our constitutional right to religious liberty and defending those who will face legal challenges and attacks in the wake of the Senate’s action,” Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation, said via Twitter.

Lee, whose amendment was prominently pushed by conservatives—alongside similar amendments offered by Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)—was considered and voted down.

The final Senate vote for the bill included every Democrat and all 12 Republicans who voted to advance the bill last week. Lee’s amendment drew support from 11 of those 12 Republicans who voted to pass the bill, save for Susan Collins of Maine. Also, one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted for Lee’s amendment, which failed in a 49-48 vote. But none of the 12 GOP defectors held Lee’s amendment as conditional for supporting passage of the bill. Conservatives had worked to convince three of the 12 to hold their votes without the key religious liberty amendments.

“There’s still time to adopt my amendment and protect the religious liberties enshrined in the First Amendment,” Lee tweeted earlier in the day.

Lee’s amendment would have ensured the federal government could not discriminate against anyone, “wholly or partially,” based on that person’s “sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction” about marriage. Further, it would have protected against the altering of federal tax status or disallowing participation in government programs or employment for people and institutions based on their marriage views.

U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-Mo.) pointedly criticized two of the senators who voted with the Democrats in the first cloture vote to advance the bill—her own state’s Roy Blunt and Iowa’s Joni Ernst. Both were chairs of the Senate Values Action Team, which promotes pro-family and pro-life policies.

Hartzler told Family Research Council’s Joseph Backholm last week, “[They] are supposed to be leaders on behalf of faith, family, and freedom. And by ‘family’ I mean the traditional family, the one that has stood the test of time for thousands and thousands of years and stand up for faith and religious freedom.”

The Respect for Marriage Act provides a “private right to action” to sue for anyone who feels threatened because of their participation in or support of same-sex marriage—a red flag for rights of conscience.

Oklahoma’s Lankford, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, told a Tulsa television station, “[The bill] basically says you don’t have to perform a same-sex wedding, but other than that, if you’re whatever belief that you may be, that you may disagree, whether it’s a religious belief or a conscience belief, [but] then you’re going to be cut out of society.”

The 12 Republicans who voted for the bill were Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah and Todd Young of Indiana.

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The Senate passed the so-called Respect for Marriage Act on Tuesday, without any of the three amendments that conservatives sought to protect religious freedom and rights of conscience.

The bill, which writes gay marriage into federal law and repeals key parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), carves out protection for churches that object to hosting same-sex weddings but will unleash a rash of litigation and violates constitutional religious liberty protections, conservatives argue.

Critics of the bill say Christian schools and other faith-based nonprofits are left legally vulnerable under the act, as well as private business owners, government employees and others who hold Biblical marriage views.

“This is a discouraging development in our country’s storied history of protecting the free exercise of religion,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said following the vote. “While I’m