What Does the “Respect for Marriage Act” Mean for Christian Education?

1 December 2022
The so-called Respect for Marriage Act was recently passed in the United States Senate. It is now headed for approval in the House of Representatives where it is expected to easily pass given the current Democratic majority there. President Biden has promised to sign it into law as soon as it comes to his desk. So, before year’s end, the United States will likely have endorsed and reaffirmed a way of life which is clearly against God’s Holy Word.

By: John Van Der Brink

The significance of this legislation for Christian schools and churches is disturbing. To understand how it is likely to affect us, we need to understand the status of marriage laws in America before this legislation. Because the definition of marriage was such a hot-button issue in the 1990’s, our nation’s leaders passed a law in 1996 called the Defense of Marriage Act. That was a federal law which defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman and forbade states from being forced to accept same sex marriages performed in other states.  

That definition lasted until 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodge’s case that same sex marriage was a fundamental right and that state bans were unconstitutional. This led to a widespread practice and acceptance of same sex marriage in America. But Liberals today are afraid Obergefell v Hodge may one day be reversed, and marriage would again be a matter controlled by each state. So, the Respect for Marriage Act is designed to secure same sex marriage permanently. It repeals the 1996 decision and forces all states to accept same sex marriages performed in other states. Therefore, if Obergefell v Hodge one day fails, same sex marriages will still have the protection of the Respect for Marriage.

When signed, same sex marriages will  have the support of both the Obergefell case and the Respect for Marriage Act. What is the concern for Religious Freedoms?

Basically, the Respect for Marriage Act represents and reflects 2022 liberal agenda about sex and gender issues, and the wording in it is designed to move that agenda forward. To get enough votes to pass it, liberals needed to provide so-called exemptions for religious organizations. But the exemption wording is too vague, and this prompted several senators to suggest amendments before it was passed. Unfortunately, those proposals were rejected, and that rejection reveals the real intent and likely outcome of this legislation.

  1. Senator Mike Lee wanted to include wording which would prevent the federal government from negating the tax-exempt status of faith based nonprofit organizations. That wording was rejected! So, our tax-exempt status could be threatened if our hiring practices were considered contrary to this law.
  2. Senator Marco Rubio’s concern were also dismissed. He was concerned that the wording in the bill allows individuals to sue who feel harmed by the policies of a religious organization. In other words, religious organizations such as a school could face lawsuits from those who feel harmed by their policies.
  3. Finally, Senator James Lankford wanted to include wording which would protect the government from denying various benefits to religious organizations if their policies conflicted with this legislation. Again, his concerns were rejected, so denials of benefits such as certifications scholarships, and accreditations can be expected.

What is also disturbing to note is that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which defended a Biblical concept of marriage was passed with a vote of 85 to 14. Today, those who wanted to defend the same thing lost 36 to 61. That reflects the moral change in America in 26 years! Even 12 Republicans succumbed to the sexual revolution.

Still, today, we have religious freedom in our country. And there is One who reigns over all things. By His work and providence, He can turn the heart of the rulers even in our troubling time. Let us try to pray for them, and also ask that He would preserve Christian education and freedom of worship for our children and grandchildren.

John Van Der Brink, director of the Netherlands Reformed Christian School in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, and a member of the Board of Directors of Christian Council International (CCI)