WASHINGTON (BP) — Immigration reform, health care and same-sex marriage all made the cut in varying degrees for President Obama’s State of the Union address.
The president cited each of the controversial issues during his fifth State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday evening (Jan. 28). Some social conservatives responded with a call for action on one and critiques of his administration’s policies on the others after Obama’s 65-minute address.
In a speech that focused much on the economy and jobs, the president said, “[I]f we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system.
“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades,” he said. “And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
Congress is seeking to address what is widely acknowledged as a deeply flawed system that has resulted in an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
Last year, the Senate approved a broad immigration reform bill, which needs some repair work, according to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The House of Representatives took a piecemeal approach in 2013, with committees forwarding measures dealing with such aspects as strengthening border security, providing visas for guest workers and requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check workers’ eligibility.
The House’s Republican majority is expected to discuss principles for immigration reform at a three-day retreat that began Wednesday (Jan. 29).
The Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) — a coalition of evangelical leaders promoting a solution that will secure the borders, respect the law and authorize a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants — placed in the Jan. 29 issue of USA Today a full-page ad telling House Republicans: “We’re Praying for You.”
The ad lists the EIT’s principles for the GOP representatives to consider and says, “We pray God will show you a path forward that honors the rule of law (Romans 13) and the call to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25).”
ERLC President Russell D. Moore is one of the 11 evangelical leaders who make up the EIT.
On health care, Obama cited some of the results of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care reform law that has remained controversial for various reasons. More than 3 million people under 26 years of age have acquired coverage under their parents’ plans, and 9 million Americans have registered for private health insurance or Medicaid, he said.
The president urged listeners to persuade those without health insurance to sign up by March 31, the deadline for obtaining insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
He also told House Republicans not to vote again to repeal the law. “[I]f you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice — tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up,” Obama said.
The health care law and some of the Obama administration’s rules to implement it continue to meet strong resistance for coercive policies regarding abortion funding and religious freedom. In March, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of the administration’s abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to pay for abortion-causing drugs for their workers.
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council’s president, said after the speech the president “failed to address how his policies undermine religious freedom.”
“Employers should not have to choose between violating their consciences or paying severe fines that threaten jobs and could even force them to drop health coverage for their employees,” Perkins said in a written statement. “This rule, or mandate, hurts families and women. It’s unfair and, thankfully, most Americans oppose it. I hope the President will listen to them.”
Obama made only a brief reference to same-sex marriage when he said, “And across the country, we’re partnering with mayors, governors and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.”
In a blog post after the speech, Ryan Anderson, the Heritage Foundation’s expert on marriage and religious liberty, said the federal government “has no business redefining marriage. People (and their elected representatives), not the President or the courts, should make marriage policy in the states. And they should make policy that reflects the truth about marriage as a union of man and woman, husband and wife, so that children have a mother and a father.”
The Obama administration “should instruct all agencies of the federal government to respect states’ authority over marriage and stop redefining marriage for a variety of federal purposes,” Anderson wrote. “And government should not violate the rights of those who stand for marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
Same-sex marriage has gained legalization in 19 states, although challenges to court rulings permitting gay marriage are pending in some cases. Meanwhile, the administration has issued policies to expand federal benefits to same-sex couples since two rulings from the Supreme Court in June.
In one decision, the high court said the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The opinion meant same-sex couples gained access to employee, Social Security, tax and other benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples. In the other opinion, the justices ruled on a procedural question that had the effect of allowing to stand a federal judge’s invalidation of a California amendment that prohibited same-sex marriage. The court, however, refused to say states cannot limit marriage to a man and a woman.
The religious freedom of some Americans who believe marriage is limited to a man and a woman has suffered in recent months. Photographers, bakers and others who have refused to participate in same-sex ceremonies because of their Christian convictions have lost in court or suffered financially despite their appeals to the right to exercise their religion.
In the Republican response to the State of the Union speech, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington told a personal story that affirmed the sanctity of all human life. Only eight weeks after delivering a third child, Rodgers shared about the first baby for her husband and her.
“Three days after our son was born, Cole, we got news no parent expects. Cole was diagnosed with Down syndrome,” said Rodgers, chairman of the House Republican Conference. “The doctors told us he could have endless complications, heart defects, even early Alzheimer’s. They told us all the problems.
“But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities,” she said. “We saw a gift from God. And today we see a 6-year-old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen; who reads above grade level; and who is the best big brother in the world.
“We see all the things he can do, not those he can’t.”
Reported by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).