Bias Watch

Christian conservatives say same-sex marriage bill will lead to “pedophilic marriages”

Two women exchanging rings at a wedding
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With reports that the Senate could be voting on the Respect for Marriage Act as early as this week, anti-LGBTQ activists are pulling out all the stops.

Mat Staver, chair of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel, is warning his organization’s followers that the bill to codify same-sex and interracial marriage will lead to “pedophilic marriages.”

“Because this bill also forces same-sex marriage on every state, Senate Majority Leader [Chuck] Schumer is bowing to the powerful LGBTQ lobby to pass this bill by THIS WEEK—no matter the consequences, or the pedophilic marriages that will result,” Staver wrote in an email.

“Texas law protecting minor children from pedophilic ‘marriages’ will not matter if Chuck Schumer passes H.R. 8404,” he continued. Texas allows child marriage. “This bill would require every state to honor and obey the marriage laws of any other state—no matter how crazy. California, for instance, has no age limit for marriage.”

The Respect for Marriage Act (or H.R. 8404) would require every state and the federal government to recognize marriages performed in other states. Proponents of the law argue that it’s necessary in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which shared some of the same legal reasoning as the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Justice Clarence Thomas also urged the Supreme Court to reconsider Obergefell now that Roe has been overturned, a sign that the Court may be coming for same-sex marriage rights as well.

Staver is referring to the many states that allow minors to marry, usually with parental consent, consent of a judge, or if the minor is pregnant or emancipated. Texas, for example, allows emancipated 16- and 17-year-olds to get married. California allows minors to get married with parental consent and if a judge rules out abuse or coercion.

Democrats in several states have tried to change these laws in recent years, but it’s usually conservative Republicans who block raising the marriage age to 18 for everyone.

Staver – who used to be the dean of the evangelical Liberty University’s law school – implied in his email that 16-year-olds being told to marry 40-year-olds doesn’t count as child marriage – even though 16-year-olds are minors – showing the lenient attitude many Christian conservatives have toward child marriage.

In Idaho in 2019, for example, Democrats tried to pass a law to ban marrying someone under the age of 16, but the bill ultimately failed to pass the state house. One Republican lawmaker said that banning child marriage would endanger the “sanctity of family.”

Conservative activists have been using this fact to point out that other states will be required to recognize child marriages performed out of state, even though many already do now. Meanwhile, the threat of states not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states is very real; many states were refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states less than a decade ago.

The point, though, is to link LGBTQ people to child sex abuse, one of the most common tactics hate groups use to turn people against LGBTQ equality.

In a tweet, Liberty Counsel Action wrote, “U.S. senators are working to pass HR 8404, which will force all states to recognize and honor horrific, abusive child ‘marriages’ with zero age limits! Radicals are ‘OK’ pushing it because some homosexuals could then wed, including child-brides!”

Despite the organization’s newfound concern with child marriage, it is not listed as one of the issues Liberty Counsel supports on their website. They do not appear to have any active lobbying campaigns to end child marriage at the state level.

Earlier this month, the anti-LGBTQ organization NOM made similar statements about the Respect for Marriage Act. Since the Respect for Marriage Act will not immediately change anything – marriage equality is currently legal in all 50 states – NOM also accused the bill of “forcing every state to accept polygamous marriages, men marrying child brides and every other perverse type of ‘marriage.’”

The bill passed the House last July with all Democrats voting for it, 47 Republicans voting for it, and 157 Republican representatives voting against it. Out Sen. Baldwin initially said she thought 10 Republican senators would vote for it. However, she and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) decided to delay the bill’s introduction until after the midterm elections.

The bill was delayed, in part, to address Republican senators’ concerns and to give them the freedom to vote in favor of it without having to worry about upsetting their base of Republican voters before the November 8 midterm elections.

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