(RNS) — With this surprising election over, we are about to see a shift in the power dynamics in Washington. In the limited window before the end of the year, the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate has time to make good on a promise to protect marriage equality by passing the Respect for Marriage Act.
As someone whose own marriage is at stake, I know all too well the freedoms that hang in the balance should this legislation fail. My husband and I have been in a committed relationship for 20 years. We were married once it was legal in New York state and then celebrated when our marriage was recognized by the entire country. Our marriage was performed by an Episcopal priest I had gone to seminary with, at a church that my husband has been a member of for decades.
When our children came along, they were baptized in that same church. We regularly attend services as well as Sunday school, and we say our prayers of gratitude at bedtime.
But for me, the protection of marriage is more than personal, it is professional, and as I am an American Baptist minister, spiritual. I have officiated at hundreds of marriages since my ordination in 1998. I’ve asked couples to vow that they will love, cherish and support each other in sickness and in health. In turn, as an exercise of my religious beliefs, I have pronounced them married in the eyes of God, with the protection and privileges granted to them by law.
There is a misconception that faith and LGBTQ+ equality are fundamentally incompatible, and opponents of this legislation point to their own beliefs as a reason to challenge marriage equality. As a religious leader, I regard this historic legislation as an important contribution to America’s religious freedom.
More immediately, I am not willing to leave the status of the marriages I’ve performed or my own to chance. The Senate delayed action to allow some of its members to put off a difficult vote before the midterm elections. Now that the election is over, it’s time for the Senate to take action before the opportunity passes. It goes without saying that the Republican-controlled House that will very likely come into power will not act to defend marriage.
True religious freedom grants all of us the right to believe as we choose, and live out those beliefs, without fear of discrimination or harm. Once considered controversial, same-sex marriage enjoys overwhelming support across the country, including majorities of all major religious traditions. In the years since same-sex marriage became legal, marriage has become an attainable dream for well over half a million couples.
The Respect for Marriage Act also protects the rights of interracial marriages. It seems hard to imagine now, but in the 1950s, only 5% of Americans approved of interracial marriage, and much of the resistance came from religious organizations and leaders. Yet today, like same-sex marriages, interracial marriages have become widely accepted, with over 90% of all Americans in support and millions of Americans currently in interracial marriages. These couples also have the right to live free from fear that the government will revoke their right to marriage.
Clearly, various religious traditions approach matters of marriage, family and identity differently. The Respect for Marriage Act recognizes this diversity while ensuring that same-sex and interracial couples are treated with equal respect in the public sphere. It makes no changes to robust federal religious freedom protections, nor does it intrude on the religious practices of houses of worship. It allows for certain traditions not to perform same-sex marriages or interracial marriages if that is their belief.
Interfaith Alliance, the organization I lead, joined together with 40 other religious and civic organizations representing millions of Americans in support of the Respect for Marriage Act as an important step in maintaining our own religious freedom to support the rights of all couples to enjoy the right and privileges of marriage. And on Thursday (Nov. 17), as the Senate prepares for a final vote, we’re gathering with diverse clergy on Capitol Hill to remind senators that religious freedom and LGBTQ+ equality rely on each other.
Like many same-sex families, as well as families across the country, our church has offered us its blessing, and I ask that the state ensure that blessing in the future.
My son learned a prayer at church that we say with him every night: “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you’ it will be enough.” There is nothing my husband and I are more grateful for than our marriage and our family, and we would be so thankful if the Senate would protect our family by passing this bill.
(The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)