U.S. House delays passage of same-sex marriage bill

White House (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives has postponed voting on a bill defending federal recognition of same-sex unions that has the backing of both LGBT activists and religious organizations.

Initially, it was anticipated that the full House would discuss and approve the bill on Tuesday. It is now anticipated that it will be tacked onto a separate defense bill that House and Senate negotiators are still working out.

As lawmakers scramble to pass as many bills as they can before Republicans retake the majority in the House on January 3, Democrats are considering adding a few of these unrelated measures to the defense bill.

The bill, which was approved by the U.S. Senate last week, served as a safeguard against the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision from 2015, which made same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

If Obergefell is overturned by the court, the legislation will allow the federal government to continue recognizing same-sex and interracial marriages in states where they were legally performed, which was a concern after the court ended the right to abortion nationwide in June.

The bill’s initial conservative opposition was lessened by a bipartisan amendment added in November that reaffirmed that existing religious freedoms would not be compromised. Several major national religious organizations supported the bill, which was championed by a group of Democratic and Republican senators.

The bill’s support from religious organizations, according to American Baptist reverend and Interfaith Alliance president Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, revealed that many had undergone a “remarkable transformation” in how they view same-sex marriage.

He partly attributed the change to the fact that since the Supreme Court made such unions legal, they were no longer unusual in the United States.

“The sky didn’t fall because same-sex marriage began happening,” said Raushenbush, who is in a same-sex marriage himself. “The specter of same-sex couples getting married no longer feels scary because it’s quite commonplace.”

According to Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, an organization that promotes religious liberty, the support for the amendment from various religious groups that are theologically opposed to same-sex marriage shows that attitudes have changed.

“Fighting a permanent culture war over gay rights is not in their interest as religious organizations,” he said. “They believe that seeking common ground is in the interest of religious freedom, the common good, and how they portray their faith to the world.” 

Even after the protections for religious freedom were added, some other religious organizations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, vehemently opposed the legislation.

The bill was defended by a number of conservative senators in opposition to this characterization, and twelve Republicans ultimately voted in favor of it.

Republican Senator Todd Young argued in a newspaper opinion piece last week that the legislation “offers far more in the way of religious liberty protections than currently under Obergefell, which leaves all such decisions up to the courts.”

The vote occurred the day after the Supreme Court appeared prepared to rule in a case challenging a discrimination-free marriage law in Colorado that a Christian web designer has the right to refuse to work on projects for same-sex unions.


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