Statement of Agudath Israel of America in Opposition to the “Respect for Marriage Act”

Agudath Israel of America urges members of the United States Senate to reject H.R. 8404, the “Respect for Marriage Act” (RFMA), legislation that is expected to be considered in the coming weeks.

The primary purpose of RFMA is to enshrine in statute the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which afforded constitutional protection and legal validity to same-sex marriage. It will also explicitly repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which established that for federal purposes the word ‘marriage’ means only the legal union between one man and one woman and which allowed states to refuse to recognize the same-sex marriages performed in other states. Neither of these actions will provide same-sex marriage greater protection than it currently enjoys.

While the Supreme Court has ruled on the law, the concerns Agudath Israel voiced in the amicus brief it submitted in Obergefell and in oral testimony on DOMA remain fully in force. Having thrown into turmoil the historical and moral underpinnings regarding traditional marriage, our nation is, indeed, in the midst of a dangerous social revolution on many fronts. Religious liberty and freedom of expression remain uncertain, and faith-based communities and institutions that adhere to bedrock notions of marriage and gender are vilified and live under a cloud of disdain and retribution. And controversy continues to swirl around how same-sex marriage affects family stability and child development, leaving many troubling questions unanswered. In light of these ongoing risks, our nation should not take the unfortunate step of enshrining Obergefell and its regrettable consequences further into law.

We are mindful of other queries that have been raised in regard to RFMA. For example, while Obergefell dealt specifically with same-sex marriage, the proposed legislation requires federal recognition of any state-approved marriage, even those involving polyamorous relationships, which is beyond Obergefell’s reach and might not be countenanced by the public. Moreover, religious nonprofits that only recognize one man-one woman marriage might be denied tax-exempt status – a possibility strongly suggested by then-Solicitor General Donald Verrilli himself at the Obergefell oral argument. Finally, will faith-based social service providers with traditional views on marriage that are contractors, licensees or grantees of government be deemed “acting under state law” and thus be subject to legal suit not only by government but also by activist groups and individuals, who will enjoy a “private right of action?”

It is not our intention to impose our religious views on others. But American law is informed by many sources, including religious faith and tradition. Jewish law and values unequivocally reject homosexual conduct and same-sex marriage, both for Jews and for society at-large. Jewish law and values reject the notion that all people have a right to marry whomever they love, without restriction. This does not deny anyone’s humanity or dignity. This is based neither in bigotry nor invidious discrimination. This is what our Torah teaches and what Jews have faithfully adhered to for millennia. We are deeply saddened that Jewish organizational supporters of RFMA have chosen to falsify the values they claim to represent.

Just as important as Obergefell’s holding are the oft-quoted statements in the decision itself that belief in one man-one woman marriage stems from “decent and honorable” foundations that “long ha[ve] been held – and continue to be held – in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.” And that “[t]he 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.” To aggressively and gratuitously cement the deeply sensitive and highly contentious Obergefell decision, and more, into statute flies in the face of the respect and consideration demanded by the Court’s words.

We urge you to reject RFMA.

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  1. When asked why he was so vocal about his opposition to the Respect for Marriage Act, one opponent of the proposed legislation told reporters on Wednesday: “All I’m asking for is that they stop calling this type of nonsense marriage, and that they show a little bit of respect for marriage. Is that too much to ask for?!”

  2. I wish agudah could stop being involved with all things political. These types of issues do nothing to further the interests of our community. Better to focus on school vouchers and bava kama.

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