September 19, 2013 (Heritage) - Bipartisan legislation was introduced today in the House of Representatives that would prevent the federal government from discriminating against citizens and organizations who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 3133) was introduced by Representative Raul Labrador (R–ID) and over 60 other original co-sponsors from both political parties.

The bill is an important step for conscience protection. Government policy should respect those who stand for marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Even in jurisdictions that have redefined marriage, those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman should be free to live in accord with their moral and religious convictions.

But in a growing number of incidents, government has not left these Americans free. Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect a photographer’s right to decline to take pictures of a same-sex commitment ceremony—even though doing so would violate the photographer’s deeply held religious beliefs as a Christian.

Christian adoption and foster care agencies have been forced to stop providing those services because they object to placing children in same-sex households. Other cases include a baker, a florist, a bed-and-breakfast, a t-shirt company, a student counselor, the Salvation Army, and more.

California’s legislature was poised to pass a bill that would have stripped tax-exempt status from groups such as the Boy Scouts because of policies on sexual orientation. Though it had passed the state Senate, 27–9, the bill was tabled in early September after criticism from surprising quarters—including the liberal Los Angeles Times.

These and other laws are creating a climate of intolerance and even intimidation for citizens who believe that we are created male and female, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage. These state and local laws are used to trump fundamental civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

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Given the bad ruling and disparaging tone of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, Congress has an opportunity to protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience at the federal level.

Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating against any individual or group, whether nonprofit or for-profit, based on their beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and woman or that sexual relations are reserved for marriage. Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating in tax policy, employment, licensing, accreditation, or contracting against such groups and individuals.

Policy should prohibit the government from making tax-exempt status contingent on a group’s beliefs about marriage. No group should be denied or lose tax-exemption because it believes that marriage is the union of a man and a woman or that sexual relations are reserved for marriage. Tax-exempt status isn’t just for those groups who win the favor of a particular government administration.

While Americans are free to live and love how they choose, they should not use government to penalize those who think and act differently. Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms. All Americans should be free to believe and act in the public square based on their beliefs about marriage without fear of government penalty.

H.R. 3133 is a first step to providing this protection at the federal level. State policy should follow as well.

Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience fosters a more diverse civil sphere. It encourages tolerance amongst citizens and promotes peaceful coexistence even in the midst of disagreement. Our First Freedom is at stake.

Reprinted with permission form Heritage