GOP Pushes First Amendment Defense Act After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Just as some states passed what they called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in anticipation of the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, there's now a proposed federal law to protect people who find same-sex unions contrary to their faith. Republican sen. Mike Lee of Utah has introduced a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act. Sen. Lee, welcome to the program once again.
MIKE LEE: Thank you very much. It's good to be with you.
SIEGEL: Your bill says that if a person or institution acts on a religious belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, it shouldn't be denied a federal tax exemption or a contract, a grant, a license. Does that mean that, say, a university with religious affiliation and federal grants can deny employment to anyone married to a person of the same sex?
LEE: A religious institution, whether an educational institution or otherwise, just like an individual ought not have to choose between adhering to religious belief and, on the other hand, doing whatever it is that that person or that entity does, there ought not be a penalty attached to a religious belief. Our country, as I explained in my book "Our Lost Constitution," was founded on a proud tradition of religious freedom and tolerance. This is especially important when it comes to government discrimination - government retaliation based on religious belief. And that's what this bill is aimed at prohibiting.
SIEGEL: But I take that - I think the short answer there is yes, a university with religious affiliations and federal grants should be allowed to deny employment to somebody married to a person of the same sex.
LEE: Part of their academic freedom and part of their religious freedom not to include deciding how to operate, which faculty to hire, which students to admit, including decisions on the basis of religious belief. The university - the college in question ought to be able to decide what kinds of people that it wants teaching because that, in turn, influences what will be taught by the university. It becomes the university's speech. Part of our rich tradition of academic freedom in this country includes the rich diversity that comes about as a result of religious education.
SIEGEL: I want to see how far your understanding of this freedom should go. If I and my neighbors believe that as a matter of faith, homosexual relations are wrong, can my neighborhood have codicils attached to property that ban the sale to same-sex couples?
LEE: No. I believe that under the Supreme Court's ruling, that would probably not pass muster. I'd have to consider your hypothetical a little bit further. I don't see that as analogous to what we're facing here where we've got a religious college or university as part of that college or university's core belief system. The type of discrimination we're trying to deal with here and we're trying to prohibit with the First Amendment Defense Act is a particularly nasty form of discrimination which involves discrimination by the government against an individual or a group thereof on the basis of religious belief.
SIEGEL: Yeah. But what do you say to, let's say, the fired faculty member or the not-hired faculty member I hypothetically put to you who says, hey, it's the law of the land. The Supreme Court says that what I've done is legal. It used to be - there used to be laws against people of different races being married and people had religious convictions about that. That's the law of the land too now that you can marry outside of your race. You're discriminating against me, or legalizing discrimination.
LEE: But it's not the law of the land that the government can or should retaliate or discriminate against an individual or group of individuals based on their religious belief about what marriage is. And we're not, moreover, in a society in which people who are either gay or lesbian who are married to a member of the same sex, for example, are subject to widespread discrimination. There is no shortage in the United States of colleges and universities and other employers of all types, of all sorts, who are willing to hire. In fact, I think it is the norm that colleges, universities and employers overwhelmingly have absolutely no problem with it. I think it's a relatively small minority of schools, probably consisting entirely of religious colleges and universities who might have a different view.
SIEGEL: Your bill does not just protect people who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It also says it protects the belief that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. So same question about the university - I mean, can a college or an institution fire a woman on the payroll because she's had sex with a man when both are unmarried?
LEE: There are colleges and universities that have a religious belief that sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage and that, for religious reasons, recognize a marriage as an institution between a man and between a woman. Those colleges and universities have the right to make that decision on their own. Now, most colleges and universities don't have that. It is, again, a slim a minority of those that do. But those that do have this ought to be protected in their religious freedom.
SIEGEL: Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, thanks for talking with us today.
LEE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Sen. Lee, Republican, is the sponsor of the bill called the First Amendment Defense Act. He spoke to us from Capitol Hill.
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