In an open letter to Sen. Cynthia Lummis, the Wyoming Pastors Network asked her to “reverse course” on her vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify protections for same-sex marriage under federal law.
The group asked Lummis to support “an amendment that prevents H.R. 8404 from either establishing a new federal creed, or stripping individuals of their rights to confess God’s creed in the public square.”
“H.R. 8404 will make outlaws of pious and God-fearing citizens,” the network wrote in the letter.
The letter, posted on Wednesday, was signed by over 40 pastors from around the state.
The network is a “loose affiliation” of pastors from different denominations and faith traditions in Wyoming. They are a non-doctrinal group.
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Lummis, along with 11 other Senate Republicans, voted for the measure on Nov. 16. That gives it enough bipartisan support to defeat a potential filibuster in the Senate. The bill has already passed the House and is supported by President Joe Biden.
Rep. Liz Cheney voted in favor of the act when it passed the House in July; Lummis’ counterpart in the Senate, John Barrasso, voted no.
The letter argues that the act “violates the First Amendment in multiple ways.”
“The language, ‘faith and credit,’ establishes a belief and creed that is favored by the United States government against the faith and creed of the Bible. Thus, when citizens — whether individuals, private businesses, religious institutions, or corporations — are threatened with ‘enforcement’ of this creed by the U.S. Attorney General and by the ‘Private Right of Action,’ they are being forced to confess what they do not believe,” the letter states. “This violates both the Freedom of Speech and the Free Exercise of Religion.”
“In order to prop up a new established understanding of marriage, the government is … forced to suppress the free speech of those who would have a different understanding of marriage and suppress the free exercise of their religion,” said Jonathan Lange, who pastors two Lutheran churches in Wyoming and signed the letter.
The network holds to a traditionally Biblical view of marriage: that it is between one man and one woman and that it is essential to the welfare and continuance of society.
“’The laws of nature and of nature’s God’ are the same as the laws of the God of the Bible,” Lange said. “No society in the history of the world has ever thought to redefine marriage, which is contrary to the laws of God in Genesis chapter one and the laws of nature … . So that’s what we mean by saying that once you redefine the very nature of marriage, then all these other things have to (change) in order to prop up that new understanding.”
Lange’s view of government is that it is not ever “authorized to make new laws.” So government must recognize “what laws of nature do exist and (legislate) in accordance with those.”
Moreover, he said, the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which passed in 1996 and states that nowhere in the U.S. is required to give credit to a same-sex marriage. He called this repeal “both unnecessary and harmful.”
In a statement last week, Lummis explained that her vote to advance the bill was “guided by two things — the Wyoming Constitution and ensuring religious liberties for all citizens and faith-based organizations were protected.”
“Marriage is a deeply personal issue, and I have listened carefully to individuals across Wyoming to hear their perspective on this matter,” she said.
Lummis’ vote in favor of the act represents a pivot from her past voting record, the Star-Tribune noted in previous reporting. She cosponsored the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act in 2013, which sought to prevent a person from being punished if they hold religious convictions that marriage is only between and man and a woman. In 2015, she cosponsored the State Marriage Defense Act. It gave states ways to get around federal recognition of marriage equality.
Religious views on the Respect for Marriage Act are varied. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for example, released a statement voicing its support.
“We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” a release from the church said.
Lange was unsure if there are LDS churches within the network’s membership, but said that the network does “work with people from the LDS church.”
“So we did not run into any contrary thoughts to this letter in our circles,” he said in an interview with the Star-Tribune. “But I can tell you that there’s a long history of the official LDS church in Salt Lake kind of going beyond the path of the ‘Freedom for All’ language.”
Freedom for All is a bipartisan “campaign to secure full nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people nationwide,” according to its website. Lange referenced the “Utah Compromise,” which was a 2015 bill that sought to protect both LGBTQ individuals from discrimination while also protecting religious institutions that do not support homosexuality.
“The ‘Freedom for All’ language is basically bringing the Utah Compromise language from 2015 into federal language,” he said. The compromise limits religious freedom to religious institutions, Lange said, which takes it away from religious individuals.
“That’s one of our main objections to this legislation, although it doesn’t talk about it in the letter,” Lange said.
Before the vote, senators amended the Respect for Marriage Act to add religious freedom protections. Nonprofit religious organizations wouldn’t be required to provide “services, facilities, or goods” for a marriage that’s against the organizations’ beliefs, they clarified.
It is Lange’s view that Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s, D-Wis., amendment, which requires that the federal government recognize a marriage if it was valid in the state it was performed in and that valid marriages are given “full faith and credit” no matter the sexes, races, ethnicities or national origins of the couple, is the reason that the 12 senators required to break the filibuster against the act voted on it.
The network’s letter encouraged readers to support Sen. Mike Lee’s, R-Utah, amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act.
It ends by stating that Lee’s amendment could come to the floor as soon as Monday.
“I mean, it would definitely be harmful in all the ways I’ve outlined,” Lange said. “It would harm the church, it would harm individuals — I think it would unleash a new sort of American society like we’ve never seen before. I sincerely hope that she changes her mind.”
Editor’s note: The network’s original letter mistakenly referenced support of Baldwin’s amendment, Senate Amendment 6483, instead of Lee’s, Senate Amendment 6482. This story has been updated to reflect the change to the letter.