Now that the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, conservatives in Congress, including Sacramento-area Republicans, are debating how to protect religious groups who disagree with the ruling. Opponents of one particular plan say it would lead to discrimination if it becomes law.
Many conservatives fear the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling will force religious people and institutions to do things against their faith. They say if a church, religious school or business refuses to comply it risks losing nonprofit status.
"We’re going down a really dark path with all this here and that it won’t just stop at something that they find offensive with you know homosexual marriage and other things that it’s going to go beyond that where now it’s going to be forced upon them in their place of worship and certain types of businesses," says Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Oroville).
LaMalfa is endorsing the First Amendment Defense Act, which he says would protect the nonprofit status of religious institutions if the federal government tried to compel them to act against their faith.
"It’s one thing for people to be able to express things that folks of a religion, religious persuasion don’t like but to go so far as to switch it the other way that they don’t have that right to associate the way they see fit is way over the top so that’s why I’m a supporter of that," he says.
More than one-third of House members have endorsed the measure. Republican Tom McClintock is not among them. He supports he supports the intent of the legislation, but says the language should be tweaked.
"I think the wording is sloppy and overly broad and I know that there are efforts to tighten it so to avoid unintended consequences," says McClintock. "But until that language is in print, I don’t tend to co-sponsor the legislation."
McClintock worries the bill is too broad because it would apply to private businesses. That has raised concerns the legislation would allow discrimination against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom. LaMalfa says it’s not that simple.
"I think it’s dangerously ambiguous for religious freedom and expression and for the ability of a business, especially if it’s a religious business you know a private school or something that’s directly religiously tied," says LaMalfa.
Democrats see it quite differently. Sacramento Congressman Ami Bera says it’s a civil rights issue.
"We wouldn’t allow private businesses to discriminate based on race or gender," he says. "And I don’t think we should allow them to discriminate based on sexual orientation."
Fairfield Democrat John Garamendi says the Supreme Court ruling still hasn’t answered every question on same-sex marriage.
"Well there’ll undoubtedly be questions," says Garamendi. "There are going to be questions having to do with benefits, wages, benefits, pensions, wills, all of those kinds of things will come up and there are going to have to be many many state laws that are going to have to be changed along the process simply to adapt to the fact that it’s not he and she."
That said, Garamendi says the debate over gay marriage is mostly over.
"It’s a settled issue," he says. "Gay marriage is legal. It’s Constitutional. This is a Constitutional issue. This is not a legal issue. And so I think it’s settled."
While Congressman McClintock says the current legislation is too broad, he doesn’t think the debate over gay marriage is settled. He says Republicans will continue to fight the Supreme Court ruling with legal challenges and bills aimed specifically at churches.
"The next great debate is going to be over freedom of conscience and particularly over the right of churches to conduct themselves in accordance with their religious teachings," he says. "I think that is a debate we win, provided that we don’t overreach or succumb to the first sloppy draft that’s presented to us."
It’s unclear if the First Amendment Defense Act will come up for a vote this fall, but the conservative wing of the GOP is pressuring party leaders to make it a priority.
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