On Senate Floor, Portman Delivers Remarks in Support of the Respect for Marriage Act
WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor urging passage on a cloture vote, or a motion to begin debate, on the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation to codify and protect the recognition of same-sex marriages in the United States. Senator Portman noted the importance of marriage as a foundational unit of society, and his belief that our laws should reflect the overwhelming American consensus that same-sex marriages should be recognized. He also addressed the critiques of the bill and outlined the significant religious liberty protections in a bipartisan amendment developed collaboratively with numerous faith-based organizations.
Earlier today, the cloture vote on this legislation passed by a vote of 62-37, with 12 Republicans voting in favor, including Senator Portman. This legislation will now go to the Senate floor for a final vote and is now one step closer to becoming law.
This legislation—including a robust religious liberty amendment—has been praised by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the Center for Public Justice, The AND Campaign, the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, and the 1st Amendment Partnership.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I come to the floor today to talk about legislation that's going to come before this chamber this afternoon, called the Respect for Marriage Act. I hope the Senate will consider this legislation and pass it. I think it's good for our country. Marriage is really important in our society. It's a sacred bond that two people make to each other. It represents a lifetime of commitment and love and care in times good and bad. It's also the foundational unit upon which our entire society is built. I witnessed this first hand over the past 36 years with my wife Jane and our amazing family. I was fortunate to have an upbringing with parents who were together for five decades. The recognition and protection of this bond makes the couple, the family, and our country stronger. That's why there's a constitutional right to marry. Same-sex marriage has also had a constitutional right since 2015. Today there are about a million same-sex households, about 60 percent of them are married. In the minds of most Americans, the validity of these marriages is a settled question and the overwhelming majority of Americans want this question to be settled. According to Gallup, 71 percent of Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be recognized as valid by law. Majority support for same sex marriage, by the way, is seen across all age groups, races, religious affiliations, and even political parties. In fact, polling from just last year showed 55 percent of Republicans support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“The Respect for Marriage Act, that we're about to vote on, actually doesn't go that far. It simply says that if you get married in one state, another state has to honor it. So, why are we here, given this broad American consensus? Why is the Senate debating this today as to whether we should recognize something that the vast majority of Americans already recognize and support? The answer is because current federal law does not reflect the will or belief that the American people in this regard. The current statute allows states and federal governments to refuse to recognize valid same-sex marriages. While it’s true that this law is not currently enforceable, I would argue, because of Supreme Court rulings, it still represents Congress' last word on the subject. It is important to clarify that, to get the old legislation off the books. Likewise, current federal law is silent on the question of interstate interracial marriage, believe it or not, so that needs to be addressed. Given this disconnect between the American people and our current legislation, it is time for the Senate to settle this issue and pass the Respect for Marriage Act, as the House of Representatives has already done. And, by the way, that was an overwhelming vote in the House with 47 Republicans supporting it. This bill simply allows interracial or same-sex couples who are validly married under one state to know their marriage will be recognized by the federal government and by other states if they move in accordance with established Supreme Court precedent. That's why we have to do this.
“Second, we have to do this because in a recent Supreme Court case, there was this notion that maybe this would get revisited, this issue of same-sex marriage. It's important we resolve the issue for both of those reasons. People who are in same-sex marriages are understandably very interested in having that resolved. They want to clarify it. They’ve made financial arrangements, maybe adoptions, and so on. They want to be sure that marriage continues to be honored. So, I think in short there are two main effects of this bill and both are well within the constitutional authority of the Congress to address. First, to ensure that the marriage is legally performed in one state are recognized as valid in other states, regardless of sex or race. This is a straightforward application, by the way, of the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution anyway. Under this clause, states are required to recognize things like court judgments and public records from other states. This bill simply clarifies that marriage is one of those things that must be recognized across state lines. Second, this bill specifies that the federal government will recognize a marriage that is valid in the state where it was performed. This portion of the bill keeps the federal government out of the business of defining marriages, which is something on my side of the aisle among Republicans that is particularly important because that leaves the decision to the states, where it properly belongs.
“I also want to take a moment to address what this bill does not do because I've had a lot of conversations with my colleagues over the last week or so about this, and some cases they're talking about things that this bill simply doesn't do. It does not require any state to perform same-sex marriages, if it chooses not to in the event that the current Supreme Court case, let's say, is overturned. It just doesn't do that. It does not require anything not already required by Supreme Court precedent. It certainly does not allow polygamy. This is a point that's been raised by some of my colleagues on my side of the aisle. Polygamy is illegal in every jurisdiction in the United States and this bill does nothing to change that, but it actually adds another provision in our amendment we'll talk about in a second that explicitly prohibits polygamy. The bill does not permit lawsuits against individuals or entities acting in a purely private capacity, and that's important. As can you see the bill is really very narrow. It's constitutional and it does not infringe on state sovereignty. It's a bill that simply ensures as a matter of statutory law that interracial and same-sex marriages that were legal in the state they were performed will be recognized if the couple moves to a different state.
“I also want to address several points of criticism against the bill and the significant efforts that we have made to address those through a substitute amendment, which was written by all of us who have been involved in this process, but also a number of outside groups. This amendment contains robust religious liberty protections. The amendment was developed collaboratively again between us. I see Tammy Baldwin is here on the floor, Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, also Krysten Sinema. Also, by listening to feedback and working extensively with many of our Senate colleagues with faith-based groups on the outside and also other stakeholders. The first criticism I've heard is that this bill does not sufficiently protect people of faith. I disagree. I believe religious freedom is a fundamental pillar of our constitutional order and I'm confident nothing in this bill will diminish the religion and conscience protections that exist under the first amendment or any other federal laws. To further advance and protect our cherished religious freedoms, however, our amendment contains four very important provisions.
“First, it acknowledges a decent and honorable people hold diverse views about the role of gender in marriage and that such people and their beliefs are due respect. This is very important. To many of the religious organizations we've dealt with who are strongly supporting this legislation, to make the point that people are going to have different points also of view and we're going to respect that. It also has a very important application to the lawsuits that people are concerned about, that might come up. In the Bob Jones case as an example, there was a notion that was different with regard to interracial marriage. In this case, though, with regard to same-sex marriage, again we respect people who have different points of view and it's important to lay that out. Secondly, it explicitly protects all existing religious liberty and conscience protections under the First Amendment. Any other constitutional provisions in federal law, explicitly. I would argue it already did that but I think it's important to make it explicit.
“Third, it guarantees this bill cannot be used to target or deny benefits, including tax-exempt status, which is very important to a lot of religious organizations. Also, grants, contracts, educational funding, licenses, many others. So religious organizations helped us to put this language in place just to ensure this bill cannot be used for that purpose. Fourth, it ensures that nonprofit religious organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues, religious schools and others cannot be required to provide facilities, goods, or services for marriage ceremonies or celebrations against their will. These religious liberty provisions are very significant. Several constitutional scholars, by the way, and advocates for religious liberty, led by professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia Law School, have carefully analyzed this bill and have sent us a letter concluding that overall this legislation is, ‘an advance for religious liberty.’ Now, these are advocates. Professor Laycock himself has taken cases to the Supreme Court representing religious schools and he is saying that this bill on net, this bill actually increases religious liberty.
“Numerous other important faith groups agree. The reverend Walter Tim, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, described this amendment if it passes as, ‘the first significant bipartisan legislation in many years advancing religious freedom for all, including those who hold traditional views on marriage.’ In other words, he's saying this legislation, forgetting the parts about same-sex marriage which are very important, but with regard to religious liberty, it moves the ball forward in his view as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Another criticism of this bill is that will be used to target religious organizations by revoking their tax-exempt status under federal law. I don't see how this would be possible without even having an amendment, but we wanted to clarify that. This bill does not require anything that is not already required by the Supreme Court. However, penalizing or targeting a private organization because of sincere views on same-sex marriage would be a clear first amendment violation. I'm confident the Court would not tolerate it. But to ensure that this bill cannot be used to target or deny benefits to religious organizations, our amendment explicitly forbids it. The amendment specifies this legislation may not be used to deny or alter, ‘any benefit, status or right unrelated to marriage.’ Period. This gives assurances to people and organizations of faith that their tax-exempt status, tax treatment, educational funding, licenses, and other benefits cannot be affected by this legislation.
“The third criticism I've heard is that this bill could lead to legalize and recognize polygamy. Again, to address it we put an explicit prohibition in place even though no state permits it. There cannot be recognition of polygamist marriages, period. As you can tell, we have worked hard to address the concerns that have been raised and to craft an amendment that provides robust affirmative protections of people of faith without diminishing the rights for couples in same-sex marriages. This is very important. President Hoogstra, of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, a group that is endorsing this legislation, observed that this amendment, ‘sends a strong bipartisan message to congress and the administration and the public that LGBTQ rights can coexist with religious freedom protections. And that the rights of both groups can be advanced in a way that is prudent and practical.’ That's what's extraordinary about this bill. These two sometimes viewed as competing interests are working together and as she said, we've shown here through this legislation that these rights can coexist, religious freedom on the one hand, LGBTQ on the other hand.
“Achieving this kind of compromise could not have happened without hard work, good faith, and bipartisan negotiation. I want to extend specific thanks to the following groups that have worked with my colleagues and me to develop this legislation, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known as the Mormon Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Center for Public Justice, the AND Campaign and Institution of Religious Freedom Alliance, and the First Amendment Partnership. It is my hope that with the changes we've talked about today and we've all now agreed to, we can pass the legislation with the same kind of overwhelming bipartisan majority we saw in the House of Representatives. And therefore, settle this issue once and for all. Millions of American couples, including many in Ohio, are counting on their elected representatives in Congress to recognize and protect their marriage. To give them the peace of mind to know that their marriage is indeed protected and secure. We must not let them down. Thank you and I yield the floor.”