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Wyoming Lawmakers Combat Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Ruling


Now that the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, conservatives in Congress, including Wyoming Republicans, are debating how to protect religious groups who disagree with the ruling.

Many congressional conservatives fear the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling will force religious people and institutions to do things against their faith. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said some are worried about the ruling.

“I think any people of faith always have concerns about anything that comes out that interferes with their belief, religion, and their faith.” 

That’s part of the reason he’s joining Wyoming’s other two federal lawmakers in endorsing the First Amendment Defense Act. Senator Mike Enzi said it would protect the nonprofit status of religious institutions if the federal government tried to compel them to act against their faith.

“I think it’s important for Congress to say that people do have a First Amendment right to speak and their actions can be in coordination with that and the federal government can’t penalize them for their freedom of speech.”

More than one-third of Senate and House members have endorsed the measure. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis claimed that they’re not endorsing discrimination. She offered the example of Catholic Social Services, which she said could be imperiled by the ruling.

I think it's important for Congress to say that people do have a First Amendment right to speak and their actions can be in coordination with that and the federal government can't penalize them for their freedom of speech.

“Because of their core faith values they do not want to provide babies for adoption for same-sex couples. Should the fact they as a church-affiliated adoption agencies lose their tax exempt status or other federal contracts simply because of that.”

Critics worry that 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. Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo said at a minimum any so-called religious freedom bill should include protections for the LGBT community.

“A good idea to add nondiscrimination language that would specifically prohibit private businesses employers anyone for discriminating on individuals based on their sexual orientation. So we need to find that balance.”

Moderate Republicans are pushing back against conservatives too. Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk said it is time, that his party drop its challenges and listen to the justices.

“I think we should definitely just go along with the Supreme Court decision.”

For Congresswoman Lummis the debate on gay marriage is merely evolving.

“It will spark a debate about what the role of the state is in the marriage contract. Before it was more of a debate of should the state recognize non-traditional marriage.”

Lummis predicts other issues surrounding same-sex marriage are sure to end up on the High Court’s docket in the future.   

“I believe the debate will now turn to what is the role of government in the marriage contract. So I think it will continue to be debated but take a very different posture.”

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. 

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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