Republicans who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act on Wednesday still have time to reverse course and take a stand against the radical legislation. 

Twelve Republican lawmakers voted for advancing the Respect for Marriage Act: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Todd Young of Indiana. 

Many of these lawmakers claim that the much-discussed legislation protects religious liberty. But opponents of the bill warn that it “puts a giant target on people of faith.”

The legislation repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, obliges those “acting under color of state law” to recognize same-sex marriages, and orders the federal government to recognize marriages that are deemed valid by one or more states.

And as Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, explained to The Daily Signal on Friday, people on both sides of the aisle are missing a pivotal aspect of the matter: The Respect for Marriage Act is only a third of the way to the finish line.  

“The bill itself still hasn’t passed, they still haven’t broken the filibuster on the underlying bill,” Bovard said. “So that is the next big vote.” 

Wednesday’s vote merely allowed the debate over the bill to move forward. It’s generally assumed that if a lawmaker votes for cloture on the motion to proceed, they will vote for cloture on the underlying bill, Bovard said.

“There’s no reason they have to do that,” she explained. “There’s many, many instances where members say, ‘Well, I agree, we should have the debate, but I am now convinced that this bill is not sufficient to pass.’” 

There’s no shortage of opposition to the bill, a senior Republican aide shared with The Daily Signal. 

“These 12 Republican members that are choosing to vote for this bill right now (for cloture, for a motion to proceed) they know what the consequences of this bill are,” said the aide, who asked not to be identified to protect his anonymity. “They’re just choosing to ignore it. And that’s the biggest problem right now.”

None of the 12 Republicans responded to requests for comment for this story.

The senior Republican aide insisted that though most GOP leadership voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, there hasn’t been a leadership effort to stop the bill since it was first introduced and passed the House in July. 

It’s not immediately clear what GOP leadership stands to gain from this inaction, he added, suggesting that top Republicans must not “feel truly alarmed that religious liberty in our nation is under attack.” 

“When there are really tough votes for the Dems, like on Born-Alive [Abortion Survivors Protection Act], they have all their members stand in line and oppose it,” the Republican aide said, questioning why Republican leadership does not demand the same of GOP lawmakers voting on the issues that are “most important to us and our base, like religious liberty.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story. 

Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee has repeatedly raised concerns about the contents of the Respect for Marriage Act, urging Democrats and Republicans to come to an agreement on his amendment creating a strict policy that the federal government can’t discriminate on either viewpoint of marriage, whether same sex or traditional.

“I offered to support the bill if the sponsors would include my amendment to prohibit the government from removing tax-exempt status based on religious beliefs about same-sex marriage (for or against),” Lee said Wednesday. “The sponsors adamantly refused even to consider that. Why?”

Conservative leaders like Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson have praised that amendment, and according to Bovard, the bill should not be allowed to pass without it. It’s unclear at this point in time if Lee will even get a vote on his amendment. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

“Despite this week’s Senate vote on the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, conservatives still have an opportunity to defend religious liberty and the institution of marriage,” Anderson told The Daily Signal on Friday.

“Conservatives and our grassroots activists must demand their senators support Sen. Mike Lee’s amendment to provide essential protections for religious freedom,” she emphasized. “Other proposals, like Sen. Susan Collins’ amendment, fall short in rectifying the major problems in this legislation. Anything less than the Lee amendment would give the Left yet another opportunity to force their radical social agenda on the American people and punish organizations or individuals who don’t comply.”

Major conservative and religious organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Religious Freedom Institute have condemned the Respect for Marriage Act. Religious leaders previously warned The Daily Signal that it would hack away at the religious freedom of faith-based groups.

“Catholic institutions will have a tough time living our faith under this legislation,” Stephen Minnis, president of the Catholic Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, told The Daily Signal earlier this week.

“In fact,” he said, “giving religious institutions a tough time seems to be the point of the legislation. But the U.S. Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion, not just expression of religion. Benedictine College is committed to those rights, following the U.S. bishops, who joined an amici brief to defend our position this summer.”

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