Respect for Marriage Act Necessary for LGBTQ+ Americans Says Equal Rights Organization

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Image: Leland Bobbe/Getty Images.

The Respect for Marriage Act would fully repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which originally defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.

When the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion, a woman’s reproductive rights weren’t the only matter on the table. In the landmark ruling was a concurring opinion from 30-year veteran of the bench, Justice Clarence Thomas. In it, he urged that the court should take another look at cases that have already been decided on contraception and same-sex marriage.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” wrote Thomas. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

For LGBTQ+ individuals and allies of the community, Thomas’ words were clear. It has since prompted the introduction of The Respect for Marriage Act, which passed in the House on Tuesday, and would protect the freedom to marry for same-sex couples at the federal level. Despite its uncertain future in the Senate, the House vote is a major step toward codifying the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges and Windsor v. United States decision. The Respect for Marriage Act would also fully repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which originally defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states. 

Today the legislation requires the federal government to respect marriages between same-sex couples and interracial couples for all federal purposes and requires states to respect marriages performed in other states. The Respect for Marriage Act’s passing would codify 1967’s Loving v. Virginia, which outlawed bans on interracial couples from marrying; 2013’s Windsor v. United States, which struck down DOMA; and 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

“There is a unique need for this federal law in the South. For the one-third of LGBTQ+ Americans who live in the South, the Respect for Marriage Act is vital legislation,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “All LGBTQ+ Southerners live in a state with laws prohibiting the freedom to marry—laws that are unenforceable because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling. Extreme anti-LGBTQ+ forces are working at every level to erode LGBTQ+ equality, and if they prevail in having Obergefell revisited or overturned, these families and marriages would be at risk. We need to be doing everything we can to protect LGBTQ+ equality in this unprecedented era of attack—and now, the Senate should follow the lead of the House by passing the Respect for Marriage Act.”

Polling shows that an overwhelming number of Americans—71 percent—support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Support has steadily climbed every year since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Still, popular thought has no bearing on the court. In their decision to not uphold Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court justices invalidated the opinions of roughly 67 percent of the American public.

“We must all be clear-eyed about the reality that we are entering a new chapter in the movement for LGBTQ+ equality—one where the far-right political movement feels more emboldened than ever to roll back fundamental American rights and freedoms,” says Beach-Ferrara. 

Campaign for Southern Equality points to data from The Williams Institute that reveals at least 200,000 same-sex couples live in a Southern state. The organization asserts that protecting the freedom to marry through legislative measures like the Respect for Marriage Act disproportionately concerns these families, all of whom live in states with either an unenforceable constitutional amendment or state statute banning same-sex couples from marriage. same-sex couples as “parody marriages.”

“This is not a hypothetical scenario: Every year lawmakers at every level of government try to diminish same-sex couples’ marriage rights and infringe on many other LGBTQ liberties, desppite the fact that a supermajority of Americans support marriage equality. It’s up to all of us, from our members of Congress to state lawmakers to local communities, to band together and prepare for the work ahead so we can live in a country where your zip code doesn’t determine your rights.”

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