By a vote of 61-36, the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act on November 29. The bill now goes to the House for approval later this month before being sent to President Biden for his signature. The legislation led by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) aims to enshrine marriage equality in federal law. All 36 no votes were from Republican Senators.
In a statement, President Joe Biden commented on the bill’s passage. “With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, 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. For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled,” said the President.
“This bill recognizes the unique and extraordinary importance of marriage on an individual and societal level. It would help promote equality, prevent discrimination, and protect the rights of Americans in same-sex and interracial marriages. It would accomplish these goals while maintaining — and indeed strengthening — important religious liberty and conscience protections. I am proud to be the lead Republican sponsor of this legislation,” said Senator Collins.
Democrats in Congress felt it necessary to take steps to codify marriage equality after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to an abortion. Many Americans reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade with shock, but many also asked a frightening question: What might be next?
There is growing concern that this court has thrown precedent out the window after Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion, “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”
The Respect for Marriage Act would do two primary things: First, it would require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed.
Second, the bill would guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, but the bill would not require a state to issue a marriage license contrary to state law.
The bill doesn’t go as far protecting marriage equality as many would like but considering the non-stop Republican attacks on LGBTQ+ rights in recent years, it’s a win. A small win, but a win.
“The LGBT community has had some tough losses, and we are being attacked in this really complex and layered way,” said Ricardo Martinez, chief executive officer of Equality Texas, which advocates for LGBTQ rights. “It’s restorative for our spirits and for folks who have been struggling with a news cycle that has been incredibly brutal.”
At the Texas GOP state convention in Houston earlier this year, the party made anti-gay discrimination an official part of their platform. “Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin, and we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. No one should be granted special legal status based on their LGBTQ+ identification,” reads the document. It also states: “We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal, and moral covenant only between one biological man and one biological woman.”
Many Texas Republicans argue the Respect for Marriage Act is not necessary since marriage equality was made legal by the Supreme Court in 2015, apparently oblivious to what just happened to abortion rights. “Zero evidence Obergefell threatened,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, (R-TX), who voted to block the bill tweeted. “Threat to religious liberty is, however, a real and present danger with Biden IRS.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-TX), who also voted against the bill, has said it is “all about teeing up the Biden IRS to target religious schools, churches and charities.”
Texas still has laws on the books that ban same sex marriage and sodomy despite Supreme Court rulings legalizing both. If the high court were to overturn the 2015 ruling on marriage, as Justice Thomas proposed it should, the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act would protect the thousands of Texans in same-sex unions.