Congressional conservatives are rallying behind Sen. Mike Lee’s religious freedom bill, even as House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders show little stomach for putting divisive social issues at the top of the Republican agenda.
On Thursday, Lee and a handful of House members all cited the April 28 oral argument in the Supreme Court gay marriage case as prompting the legislation. There, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. about a precedent dating from 1983, where the Supreme Court held that the IRS was free to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because it banned interracial relationships.
“So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?” Alito asked.
Replied Verrilli, “I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. … It is going to be an issue.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), the lead House sponsor, said Verrilli’s comment proves there is a need for legislation. “All Americans should be free to believe and act in the public square based on their beliefs about marriage without fear of government retaliation or penalty,” he said. “This is a great bill that all conservatives, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans should get behind, that could generate support in both parties and that can actually pass both houses of Congress.”
And yet: House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to commit Thursday to bringing the First Amendment Defense Act, or anything else dealing with the aftermath of the gay marriage ruling, to the House floor. “A number of members have concerns about issues that it raises and how they might be addressed,” Boehner said of the Supreme Court ruling. “But no decision has been made on how best to address these.”