The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

It’s Wednesday, November 30th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Senate Subverts Marriage: The So-Called ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act Passes Senate Vote

Yesterday is going to be one of those days we remember in American political history because I believe it represented a major turning point. And furthermore, it was a moral disaster. Yesterday, by a vote of 61 to 36, the United States Senate voted to codify same-sex marriage.

Now, technically what it did in adopting what is mis-characterized as the Respect for Marriage Bill, the central issue there is to require states to recognize legal, same-sex marriages performed in any other state. That effectively means coast to coast legalized same-sex marriage. Now, you might say, “I thought the Supreme Court had already granted a federal right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states.” And you would be right. That would be the Obergefell decision in 2015. But nonetheless, this is political grandstanding. But it is political grandstanding of a particularly dangerous sort. And in this case, the particular danger is underlined by the fact that, among the 61 senators voting for this legislation, were 12 Republicans. And there’s a huge story there.

We have seen this issue coming for some time. The issue came before the United States House and when that took place this past summer, 47 Republicans voted to join with the Democrats in supporting this redefinition of marriage, civilization’s most basic institution. When the vote for cloture came just days ago, 12 Republicans voted to bring the issue to the floor. No surprise, those 12 Republicans, who claim, after all, to be acting in defense of civilization and also, as we shall see, in defense of religious liberty, the fact is that they sold out to a radical redefinition of the most basic institution of civilization, and there will be inevitable consequences. And yes, one of those consequences is going to be a collision with religious freedom; and we’re going to see why.

But first we need to look at exactly what happened. Yesterday, the United States Senate voted to approve an amended version of the Respect for Marriage Act that would codify same-sex marriage. And the most important thing it would do first is it would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which had been passed overwhelmingly by the United States Congress back in 1996. In the Senate then, it passed by a vote of 85 to 14. Just consider how this reveals the vast moral change taking place in the United States in a single generation.

We’re going back just to 1996. Bill Clinton was president of the United States, and Bill Clinton, now, of course, along with his wife, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, she was also the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, both Clintons now enthusiastic supporters of same-sex marriage. But back in 1996, it was Bill Clinton who signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act. But he’s not the only one to do a turn about, and we’re going to see an interesting story revealed about an Illinois Senator on this matter.

The Defense of Marriage Act, by the way, simply stated that the federal government would not recognize any same-sex marriage even if a state or numerous states might legalize, normalize and recognize them. But of course, looking back at this, the most important thing to do understand is that this legislation passed 85 to 14 in the United States Senate. It passed so overwhelmingly that it would be very difficult to find the senator who would now admit having voted for it. But the same body, that is the same legislative body, the United States Senate, now voted to repeal this legislation and to celebrate it as a matter of moral change. We’re not looking at just to change, a modification, a new compass setting on this issue, we are looking at a 180 degree U-turn, an absolute reversal. And all of this has taken place just since 1996.

Now, as I said, there were 12 Republicans who dared to vote for the measure. These would include senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard M. Burr and Thom Tillis, both senators in North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Dan Sullivan also of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Todd Young of Indiana. Every single one of those Republicans voted to redefine marriage. They may try to say they were doing something else, but what they were actually doing is redefining marriage.

Now, it’s incredibly interesting to look at the comments made by Senator Lummis herself. Again, Republican from Wyoming. She gave very interesting comments during the debate. And in her comments she went on to make a distinction. She said, “There is a biblical definition of marriage, and there is,” what she called, “a secular definition of marriage.” She went on to say, “The biblical definition of marriage is marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” But she said that marriage now has the two meanings, the biblical and the secular. And she argued that it was perfectly consistent, it makes perfect sense to redefine marriage in secular law, while continuing, she said, to affirm what she calls biblical marriage in a biblical sense.

Now, here’s the problem. Once you describe a distinction between biblical marriage and secular marriage, as a matter of principle, you’re arguing that secular marriage should be seen as something distinct from biblical marriage. Well, you have just separated, you have just unhitched or unhinged marriage from any objective definition in the Western moral tradition. You have just unhitched marriage from any consistent meaning of marriage that would go back not just a matter of a couple of centuries, but more than a couple of millennia. You are looking at an extremely radical moral act.

But we’re also looking at a real test case for the thinking of Christians as we try to think through these issues according to a Christian worldview. Is there some distinction between, say, how a church would define marriage and how a county or a state would define marriage? Well, yes, there is some distinction. But if that distinction becomes an absolute or radical distinction, then you can understand exactly where this is going; it is headed in the direction of those who hold to a biblical understanding of marriage as having to defend the right to hold to that understanding of marriage over against a very aggressive secular culture that’s going to be saying, “Look, it’s okay if you say inside your church walls. That’s what marriage is. It’s okay if inside your homes you want to say that’s what marriage is, but you have no right to walk out in public and say that’s what marriage is.”

Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times, actually made this case some time ago when he said that it’s all right for Christians to hold to a biblical understanding of these issues in their homes and in their hearts but not in public. In public, keep it to yourself.

By the way, Senator Lummis also said in her comments, “We do well by taking this step, not embracing or validating each other’s devoutly held views, but by the simple act of tolerating them.” You’ll notice she says, “each other’s devoutly held views.” At least one thing we need to note is this: Until incredibly recently, and by that I mean in just the tiniest, tiniest portion of human history, until very, very recently, not one major religious body of any form had endorsed anything like saying sex marriage.

This reminds me of a statement made by Justice Alito in the oral arguments for the Obergefell decision when he held up a smartphone back… And remember this was 2014, 2015. He held up a smartphone, at least the early form of the smartphone available then, and said, “Whatever same sex marriage is, it is more recent than this.” Same sex marriage is more recent than the smartphone.

This reminds me of another comment that was made by a senator in the proceedings yesterday who said that way back in 2015, something was understood. Way back in 2015? Wait just a minute. In 2015, if a baby was born, that baby is only in the second grade right now. What do you mean way back or as far back as 2015? That’s a statement of moral and historical insanity.

Part II

‘Love Is Love’: The Argument Undergirding the ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act That Advocates Really Don’t—And Really Can’t—Believe

Now, you need to remember that this bill, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, that redefines marriage also put in protections, legal recognition for interracial marriages. The thing we need to notice is that that was entirely window dressing because there was no legal threat to interracial marriages whatsoever, it was just a way of politically putting together a certain form of a casserole, in legislative terms, that would basically accomplish what was wanted here, which is the legalization of same-sex marriage, but would do so while claiming some kind of lofty ambition to make certain that all marriages are protected.

But here’s where the language gets really, really interesting. And I want to watch it very, very closely. I think you’ll find this extremely revealing. The Democratic Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, senator from New York, celebrated of course this legislative action. He went on to say, “The rights of all married couples will never truly be safe without the proper protections under federal law, and that’s why the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary.” That’s what he said.

On the Senate floor on Monday, he said, “Passing this bill is our chance to send a message to Americans everywhere; no matter who you are, who you love, you deserve dignity and equal protection under the law. That’s about as American and ideal as it comes.” Just listen to that language. Let’s look at the words as if he meant them seriously. “This was intended to send a message to Americans everywhere,” he said. “No matter who you are, who you love, you deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law.” I’m just going to state the obvious. Senator Schumer said that, he does not believe that. The keywords there are no matter who you are, who you love, you deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law, I guarantee you that there are sexual relationships, there would even be forms of marriage, dare I say polygamy, that at least in official statements, Senator Schumer would have nonetheless no reluctance to condemn. He would condemn them. But he just said, “No matter who you are, who you love, you deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law.” What I want us to note in a worldview perspective is how language like that is offered, and it is repeated in the media as if it makes sense when every sane person knows what was said isn’t actually believed.

As we shall see, there were those who didn’t believe that this bill even went far enough in terms of LGBTQ activism. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, also a Democrat, said, “I want to see the day when we have 100 votes in favor of no discrimination, not just for who we love, but also in any activity.”

Now, I’ll simply say taking a straightforward terms, I think that is one of the least responsible statements ever made by a United States Senator. No discrimination, not just for who we love, but also in any activity. Now, clearly she was speaking of the context of same-sex marriage, but you will notice the lofty language that is intended here to signal inclusion, tolerance, diversity. But even those making these claims, at least most of them, don’t believe in absolute diversity, they don’t believe in absolute inclusion, they do believe in the LGBTQ revolution, and they had better understand that what they are embracing is a logic that includes that plus sign at the end. And they, willingly or not, have set themselves up to be absolutely defenseless against that plus sign.

One of the misspeakers in chief about all of this is none other than the President of the United States, Joe Biden. In a statement anticipating the Senate passage of this act, he said, “The United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love. And Americans should have the right to marry the person they love.”

Well, Mr. President, let’s just consider the logic of what you have just said because the Democrats in the Senate have made very clear and even have adopted this amendment in order to say, “We don’t mean polygamy, we don’t mean that it can be more than two people, but we are going to redefine marriage no longer to mean a man and a woman. Now it can mean a man and a man or a woman and a woman.” And of course, given the non-binary category, who knows all that it might mean. Two individuals, by the way, is the way some of this language is expressed; just two individuals. Man and woman simply disappear. But the President said, “Love is love.” Well, again, Mr. President, I don’t believe you actually mean that. Or if you do mean that, you ought to have the courage to tell the American people, you mean that, no boundaries whatsoever, no definitional requirements whatsoever, love is love.

But the bigger point here is that it’s not just a matter of loose language among the proponents of this bill, it’s a matter of the fact that if you decouple marriage from an objective reality, an objective definition, if you separate it from creation and ontology, that is to say being as God has created it, then marriage, inevitably, if it can mean some other thing, will mean many other things. The only constraint on how many other things it might eventually mean, the only constraint is whatever residual sanity remains in society. But as we have seen, in just one generation, you can’t count on much of that sanity continuing at all.

And furthermore, the logic behind this kind of effort, and you see it in these Democratic statements, the logic behind it simply means there is basically a forfeiting of any claim to marriage as any kind of objective reality, it just means whatever. Some legislature, some court, some culture may say, “It means this for now and it means this for us. We’ll see about later.”

I mentioned that there were some who’d said that the Respect for Marriage Act didn’t go far enough. And that leads to the obvious question, well, just how far do you want to take this? Brooke Midden and Al Weaver reporting for The Hill, that’s a Washington based news source, said, “The bill, as it currently stands, would officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and require state recognition of legal same-sex and interracial marriages but would not codify the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalize same-sex unions nationwide or prevent the high court from eventually overturning the landmark decision.” That’s just, by the way, an acknowledgement of the fact that there is no power granted to the United States Congress to define marriage for all 50 states. Once again, we see that on the left, the very existence of the Constitution appears to be a problem.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat, very liberal, told the group known as Changing America, “I think this is an enormously important first step. And I don’t think there are any guarantees that the Supreme Court will not overturn the precedent they set recently with the Obergefell., so this is important to protect the rights of same-sex couples across the country.” Now, just notice again, “an important first step.” Redefining marriage in this way is an important first step. Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act is an important first step. Again, just understand we have been warned.

I mentioned Senator Schumer, the Senate’s majority leader, a Democrat from New York. Just before the Senate adopted this legislation, the majority leader said, “Today we’re working to pass the Respect for Marriage Act on the Senate floor. This is personal to me,” he said, “and today, I’m wearing the tie I wore at my daughter’s wedding to her wife.” Again, the picture is clarified.

Part III

No, Senator, You Cannot Dignify That Which is Against Nature: Why Same-Sex Couples Will Still Be Disappointed After the Passing of the ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act

But I want to look to another member of the United States Senate who was an eager advocate for what became known as the Respect for Marriage Act. That would be Senator Dick Durbin, United States Senator and former member of Congress from the state of Illinois. Senator Durbin took to the floor on yesterday’s debate over this bill and made very clear that he was seeking to encourage the Senate to adopt this redefinition of the federal position on marriage. He said, “We need to protect LGBTQ families and ensure that same-sex marriages offer the same stability and dignity that all marriages are entitled to.”

Now, that’s an extremely important statement, and for several reasons, as we shall note. One of the things I want us to recognize here is that the senator here seems to believe that this legislation can offer to same-sex marriages the same stability and dignity “that all marriages are entitled to.”

Now, I just want to say that this is going to turn out to be a matter of grave disappointment for the advocates of same-sex marriage, and that is because you can say that this legislation will offer stability to same-sex marriages, and in terms of the political order, perhaps it will do that, but when the word dignity is invoked here, that’s where we need to understand that an attempt by the Senate or by the United States Congress or by any government to dignify same-sex marriage, that is not politically or culturally unimportant, but ultimately it will not work. And this is central to the Christian understanding: you cannot ultimately dignify what is prohibited by scripture, what is contrary to creation. You can try to make it look dignified, you can declare that you have recognized its dignity, that you have made it dignified, but nonetheless, that is not a true dignity, and the lack of that dignity will show through. It also shows something of the ambition behind this bill, which is to simply normalize the entire array LGBTW, but in particular, same-sex sexual relationships and say, “They are such a good that we are going to say they’re just as good as a man and a woman united in holy matrimony.” But you know, the government may say that the senator may insist that, but I’m just going to say the moral order resists that, and ultimately it’s not going to work.

But when it comes to Senator Durbin, I want to point out something else. Back in 1996 when the Defense of Marriage Act was being debated, Senator Durbin was then Congressman Durbin. And he was also a Democrat from Illinois, the same state. And as Congressman Durbin, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in the year 1996. I don’t think you’re going to hear Senator Durbin trying to remind his voters how he had voted back in 1996. And now he comes out swinging as a vociferous proponent of same-sex marriage and of the Senate’s action undertaken in this legislation.

But there’s another big story here, and this one has to do with the collision between same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ revolution on the one hand and religious liberty or religious freedom on the other side, because what we are looking at is that inevitable collision. And again, we know this. The Solicitor General of the United States said it will be an issue as far back as 2014, 2015. Of course it will be an issue. And even as this supposedly bipartisan panel of senators said they had worked out a compromise that would protect religious liberty, as we discussed previously on The Briefing, and as I have made clear in writing, this is simply not the case.

And I want to point out to you how we know that’s not the case. Three different Republican senators in the course of the Senate’s deliberation yesterday brought proposed amendments that would more clearly protect religious liberty. And every single one of them was voted down. And if the Senate voted them down, then the Senate doesn’t want to say what those amendments would have said. Now, there are those who say, “Well, the Senate had worked out a compromise. It’s a bit late to undo that compromise.” Well, the compromise is wrong, and so what we have here is the Senate voting down three different amendments that would have more clearly protected religious liberty, and that tells us what the intention actually is behind this bill.

But you’ll notice that so many people who voted for this bill, including the 12 Republicans, they said they did so because they were assured of adequate protections for religious liberty. Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, one of the senators who had offered an amendment, that would’ve offered greater protection for religious liberty, he pointed out that courts do not judge according to legislative intent but according to the text of a law. He rightly and responsibly was the adult in the room to say, “We are responsible for the words in this legislation, not just for what you say is your legislative intent.”

But there was another statement made by Senator Durbin to which I must return. In the closing part of his remarks on the floor supporting this legislation and opposing additional amendments, Senator Durbin said this. Speaking of religious liberty, in particular, specifically, the Senator said this, “But we must remember this critical First amendment right is a shield, not a sword. It cannot and must not be wielded to discriminate against individuals solely based on whom they love. We’ve seen too many who tried to turn this crusade the wrong way.”

Well, Senator Durbin, we owe you this: we owe you thanks and acknowledgement at least for your candor because in saying that the issue of religious liberty is not one that is to be taken all that seriously. You say it’s a shield, not a sword, again, your own words, it cannot and must not be wielded to discriminate against individuals solely based on whom they love. Well, there, you see, there is a deliberate effort to try to say, “Same-sex marriage is simply going to be a fact. And as for the rest of you, regardless of all this language about religious liberty, you’re simply going to have to deal with that fact.” If you are a cake baker, if you’re a wedding photographer, if you run a small business, if you are an expressive artist in these areas, and ultimately, we fear, if you are a Christian institution, a Christian college, a Christian school, you are likely to face a great deal of opposition, not only based upon the larger issue of the culture redefining marriage and thus Christians and other people of orthodox religious belief being left out on the wrong side of history.

But we’re also facing the fact that we have already been told that the activists behind this bill won’t be satisfied with this bill.

Part IV

The Mormon Church and Some Evangelicals Cut a Devil’s Bargain: How Religious Groups Made Themselves, and the Larger Society, More Vulnerable By Support for the ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act

And finally, as we close today, and there simply was no way to avoid giving this much attention to this major development in our political history and in the history of our country, I want to point out that there were religious organizations and there were so many senators who were supporting this legislation, who were gleeful to go to the floor of the Senate and say, “Look, there are religious bodies who say that this legislation should be supported.”

And those who were cited included the Mormon church. And it is known officially as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The point is the Mormon church cut a bargain here, and I believe it is a devil’s bargain. They seem to think somehow that they have reached a political settlement that will respect their church’s religious liberty. But guess what; their church members’ religious liberty not protected. And I think they have also bought into a situation that will lead to making their own institutions extremely vulnerable.

And by the way, an article in The Washington Post, it was written by a young Mormon with a headline, “Young Mormons Aren’t Fooled by Church Support for a Gay Marriage Bill.” They may have thought they were going to achieve some kind of political advantage here, but I believe, again, that was a fool’s errand. This article includes statements from young Mormons for same-sex marriage, by the way, who condemned or criticized the Respect for Marriage Act, saying it “reinforces the church’s ability to discriminate against us,” implying that the legislation shouldn’t allow their church to actually hold to its own doctrines. You also see another issue here when the same young Mormon is quoted in the article as saying that there will be no reason to celebrate “until the church acknowledges that our path of happiness is not sinful.”

Now, when it comes to Mormon theology, that is, by definition, an adjustable theology. And the biggest problems with Mormonism are actually, of course, theological. But the point is the demand is that the church no longer teach that those behaviors in relationships are sinful. Those who think they reach some kind of good and stable bargain by means of this kind of legislation, I think they’re going to be sorely disappointed. And I think they’ve done very big damage to marriage and to the larger society.

And when it comes to Christian groups, I would say to Christian witness on this issue as well. And I have in my hands right now letters from groups, including the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Evangelicals basically praising and supporting this legislation. If you’re wondering if Evangelicalism in the United States is in crisis, I’ll simply say how else would you describe a divide on such a most basic issue? Basic, by the way, not only to civilization, but basic to our Christian theological understanding. That’s all.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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