N.C. senators vote in favor of Respect for Marriage Act

North Carolina U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis at press conference, Nov. 17, 2022

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  • The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and safeguards same-sex and interracial marriage.
  • An amendment to the bill ensures nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services for the celebration of a same-sex marriages.

North Carolina senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr were among 12 Republican members of the Senate who voted Wednesday in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed in the Senate 62-37. The act protects the rights of same-sex married couples while protecting religious freedom. 

On Thursday morning, Tillis held a virtual press conference to discuss why he supported the measure and not the House’s version.

The House passed its version in July with a vote of 267-157, including 47 Republicans.

He said their version had several flaws that he wouldn’t have supported, and some of the language in their bill needed to be “cleaned up.” He believes the Senate’s bill accomplishes two things.

“One, it maintains the status quo with respect to same-sex marriage that was set forth by the Supreme Court decision but then we make a lot of progress on ensuring that religious-affiliated institutions are still able to observe their faith and the way that they have for decades or centuries, and I think that we’ve struck that balance,” Tillis said. “We put together a bill that has been endorsed by a religious freedom coalition that includes the Church of (Jesus Christ) of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Evangelicals, and they believe that what we’ve done here is a good step forward for protecting religious freedom.”

The Respect for Marriage Act requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two people if the marriage is valid in the state where it was performed and guarantees that marriage is given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The bill would not require a state to issue a marriage license contrary to state law.

The senators’ bipartisan amendment includes protecting all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law, including but not limited to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and forbids the bill from being used to diminish or repeal any such protection.

It also confirms that non-profit religious organizations will not be required to provide any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. The bill also does not require or authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, which defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.

Tillis said they still have much more work to do, but he believes the Respect for Marriage Act is a sound bill that addresses many outstanding questions concerning future Supreme Court decisions.

Many disagree with Tillis’ assessment of the bill, including the Heritage FoundationAlliance Defending Freedom, which says the bill disrespects marriage and endangers religious freedom, and the NC Values Coalition, which says they “denounce Tillis’ and Burr’s votes to advance what they call the “pathway to polygamy bill.” 

Tillis said he respectfully disagrees with their viewpoints, restating that the House bill had several technical errors and paid very little attention to religious freedom. 

He also addressed concerns that he has flip-flopped on his previous stance on granting protections to same-sex couples and how he came to his decision to support the bill.

“I do think the Supreme Court decision that changes the factors that lead you to a conclusion to support or not support the bill,” Tillis said. “It certainly did for me. I mean, when you have a population that is growing, when you have people who are experts at arguing cases before the Supreme Court that believe that decision is going to hold at the SCOTUS level, then why not take some time to provide certainty to these families and take the opportunity to provide greater protections for religious freedom?”

Tillis stated that he makes decisions based on current data and facts. “The current data and current facts have changed,” he said. “Religious institutions are under attack from the far-left progressives, and I think anytime that we can come to a compromise that takes a step in the right direction, it is something that I’m willing to take the heat for and then go back and stand on my record as actually supporting religious liberty, religious freedom for about as long as I’ve been in politics since 2007.”

He also suggested that anyone concerned with the possible legalization of polygamy should read the section that prohibits it at a federal level.

Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, SC, who voted against the bill, said in a tweet on Twitter that nothing in the bill adds new protections for gay marriage, but “it does create great uncertainty about religious liberty and institutions who oppose gay marriage.”

The bill, with the amendment, will now be taken up by the House once again before it can head to President Biden’s desk for his signature.