WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and 11 co-sponsors introduced a measure in the U.S. Senate Dec. 12 that would protect religious organizations from discrimination by the federal government for supporting traditional marriage.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act "protects the rights of individuals and organizations from religious discrimination by the federal government," Lee said in a statement. "Those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage deserve respect and tolerance. It is critical that we clarify the law to ensure that their fundamental civil liberties are not at risk."

The measure would bar the government from denying any person or group tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage for religious reasons.

The chairman of two U.S. bishops' committees said in a Dec. 12 statement they support the nondiscrimination bill, saying it is necessary because of intolerance of those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman.

"Increasingly, state laws are being used to target individuals and organizations for discrimination simply because they act on their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," said San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

"Such prejudice must not be allowed to spread to the federal government," he said.

In September, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, introduced a same-named bill in the House, with dozens of co-sponsors.

Archbishop Cordileone and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty expressed support for the House measure.

In their statement on Lee's bill, the Baltimore archbishop urged lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to pass their respective bills, because "we are witnessing a growing climate of intolerance against individuals and organizations who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, with a 'comply or else' attitude being advanced by those who favor marriage redefinition in law."

"In this coercive climate, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act is an important step in preserving religious liberties at the federal level," he said.

Lee's bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee the day it was introduced. Labrador's bill was referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committees and the Ways and Means Committee Sept. 19. No votes were scheduled.