Two groups on Thursday praised the Senate introduction of a bill which seeks a religious exemption for opponents of gay marriage.

The bill, introduced by Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, is a companion piece to a House bill introduced in September by Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador. The House version of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act has attracted 91 co-sponsors as of Wednesday.

Labrador has said that his proposed legislation seeks to protect groups “from discrimination by the federal government.”

He told The Washington Post that the legislation is a response to the Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited federal agencies from recognizing the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

“Some people looked at overturning it, or doing a constitutional amendment,” Labrador said. “I looked at the immediate need, which is the protection of religious institutions and churches, so that they can continue practicing their religion as they see fit.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, strongly backed the measure in a written statement.

“The fact that this very important non-discrimination bill has now been introduced in the Senate is quite encouraging,” said Cordileone. “As with the House bill, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act introduced in the Senate would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against religious believers who hold to the timeless truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This Act, therefore, provides necessary protections. 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. Such prejudice must not be allowed to spread to the federal government.”

Archbishop Lori added, “I urge both the House and the Senate to pass the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. 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.”

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the nation's most vociferous opponent of same-sex marriage, lauded Lee and Labrador for sponsoring the legislation.

“I express my own personal gratitude, as well as the gratitude of NOM and all its allies, to Senator Mike Lee, Representative Raul Labrador, and so many other heroic members of Congress who are working to ensure that the freedoms we all hold so dear are not trampled underfoot in a bullying mob's rush to redefine marriage,” he wrote.