Editorial – The Long Game

By Rafael Hoffman

The United States Capitol building at sunset (Getty images)

This week, or in the near future, the United States Senate is likely to take up the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act,” (RFMA) a bill that would ensconce the Supreme Court’s opinion in the 2015 Obergefell case into federal law.

It is sometimes challenging to determine when it behooves Torah Jewry to speak out on an issue more germane to the general population than to the Orthodox community. Yet on this occasion there is no virtue in silence. When the nation’s representatives debate codifying an affront to the teachings not only of the Torah but of every traditional Western religion, looking the other way is not the polite response; in fact, it is a chillul Hashem.

This unpleasant obligation is compounded by the fact that shamefully many liberal “Jewish” organizations have thrown their support behind this bill, not as an expression of their progressive social views, but in the name of Judaism, R”l. This patent falsification of the Torah in support of immorality cannot go unanswered.

What is additionally disturbing about the present debate in Congress is that it could signal a surrender on this issue which not long ago galvanized opposition from the vast majority of Americans. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill that forbade this type of immorality from finding a place in American law, was passed by a Senate vote of 85-14. This past July, when the House of Representatives voted on RFMA, it was passed by the entire Democratic caucus and 47 Republicans.

Even as this issue has gained additional traction in the nation, the political right’s opposition preserved some level of decency by keeping up its protest. The fact that a large swath of the party is ready to lay down arms on the issue is disconcerting.

Presently, the bill lacks the 10 Republican votes it would need to surmount a Senate filibuster. However, talks are ongoing to attach an amendment protecting religious liberties with the intention of attracting enough votes for passage, and the bill’s bipartisan sponsors are sounding increasingly bullish about their chances.

From a purely practical and self-interested standpoint, RFMA with protections for institutions that do not conform to the cultural zeitgeist is less foreboding. It would save schools, houses of worship, and charitable institutions under the auspices of traditional religious groups from falling under the specter of federal discrimination laws. Yet codified immorality, with a caveat that those who chose to remain moral will not be persecuted, is hardly what any person of good conscience should endorse.

For those Republicans considering endorsing this bill as a means of securing their offices by attracting independent voters, they might want to think twice about such a calculus.
Some elected members of the GOP no doubt welcomed the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision, as it took an uncomfortable issue off the table. Yet, many in that camp continued to push back against elements of the deluge of debauchery that has washed over the nation since. While such an approach might allow them to sell themselves to voters as “culture warriors,” these gestures are transparently empty if they refuse even to attempt to stop the flood at its source.

Secondly, most in the Republican camp who have endorsed RFMA, or who are weighing doing so, belong to the party’s moderate wing who have resisted the rising tide of conservative populism. While it might seem logical to them that “moving on” from this cultural hot button is consistent with their brand, it could also endanger the future of their wing of the party.

While polling shows wide acceptance of the Obergefell decision, a recent Gallup poll said that 58% of regular churchgoers oppose its effects. That constituency represents a large and highly engaged segment of the GOP voter base. If moderate Republicans ignore them, these voters will understandably abandon them for populist firebrands who fight their fight.

Western Europe has demonstrated how mainstream abdication on high-stakes issues empowers once-fringe elements. After decades of ignoring concerns about how mass immigration was affecting their countries, little remains of the center-right there, while far-right groups like France’s National Front and Germany’s AfD surged.

The road to the current moral quagmire of America was paved with many weak and ill-conceived decisions. Voting “nay” on RFMA would be a valuable step in reversing this trend.

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