Even before the Supreme Court delivered a historic victory for gay rights, conservatives on Capitol Hill had begun readying themselves to protect those with the opposite mindset: Americans who believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
Last week, Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Raul Labrador introduced legislation that would bar the federal government from discriminating against opponents of same-sex marriage. The bill, called the First Amendment Defense Act would mean the federal government couldn't prevent individuals, businesses, or associations from receiving grants, contracts, licenses, tax exemptions, certifications, and more.
"Our bill shields against federal intrusion without taking anything away from anyone," Labrador, an Idaho Republican, said. "In a shifting landscape, it's time that Congress proactively defend this sacred right."
This conservative response to the Supreme Court ruling has, as of Friday, netted 69 cosponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate. And it's garnered the support of Heritage Action—the campaign arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation. In a statement less than an hour after the ruling, Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham reiterated the group's belief that the bill is needed: "Now the question is whether religious liberty and the rights of conscience will be respected. Congress must pass the First Amendment Defense Act to ensure the federal government respects individuals, businesses, and organizations that wish to act in accordance with their beliefs about marriage."
This issue has caught public attention in the past, such as when an Oregon bakery refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In April, an Oregon administrative law judge said Sweet Cakes by Melissa should pay the couple $135,000 in damages for their emotional suffering, Reuters reported.
But Lee, a Utah Republican, said in a statement that though the ruling imposes "the views of five unelected judges on a country," he saw some hope in the ruling: "I am nonetheless heartened by the majority's reassurance that the religious liberty rights of all Americans, including those who advocate a traditional view of marriage, must be protected.
"As Justice Kennedy states in the decision, 'the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered,'" Lee stated. "The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.'"
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is next in the upper chamber, and it's unclear if or when Lee's measure will come to the floor. Email and phone calls to the House Speaker's office weren't immediately returned.