After more than 300 days, a bill to safeguard religious liberty in the marriage debate appears to be gaining momentum in committee.
The legislation has attracted 164 co-sponsors since it was referred in June to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Now, with “the majority of the majority’s support,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, says circumstances “bode much better” for the bill.
Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, the original sponsor, sounded more bullish. Labrador told The Daily Signal that he expects “we’re going to see a bill [advance] here pretty soon.”
Called the First Amendment Defense Act, the bill would prohibit the government from discriminating against individuals or organizations based on their belief that marriage is exclusively a union between a man and a woman.
Labrador introduced the legislation 10 months ago as a stopgap measure to protect conscience rights after the Supreme Court’s decision last summer legalizing same-sex marriage.
The issue has gained attention at the state level. On April 5, Mississippi passed a religious liberty bill into law, while Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed similar legislation.
Conservatives have agitated for a bill to create a federal standard.
Asked why the bill languished in committee for so long, Chaffetz told The Daily Signal that a path needed to be cleared for passage before bringing up the measure for a vote.
“We have to make sure we’ve got all the right people on board, and also look how to structure such a hearing,” Chaffetz, a co-sponsor, said.
It’s “a big, weighty issue,” he added, “and we want to make sure we lay the foundation properly.”
Labrador didn’t make much of the delay.
“Congress is slow,” Labrador said, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s an important issue. It’s a controversial issue. [And] we need to be prepared for the hearing, but it’s time we do it.”
A hearing doesn’t guarantee the bill will advance out of committee. A politically boisterous session could swing public opinion against the measure.
Conservatives are pushing for a markup and floor vote on the legislation.