Karine Jean-Pierre
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Respect for Marriage Act Introduced to Protect Marriage Equality

Feinstein Baldwin Collins

From left: U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Tammy Baldwin, and Susan Collins

Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would write equal marriage rights into law.

The move comes just weeks after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that established marriage equality nationwide. For the high court to do so, a case would have to come up to it from lower courts, but bringing such a case is definitely a goal of anti-LGBTQ+ forces.

The legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996. DOMA barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages — so therefore these spouses could not file taxes jointly, receive Social Security survivors’ benefits, or access any number of other federal benefits. It also allowed any state to deny recognition to same-sex marriages from other states. A 2013 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor found DOMA unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable, but it’s still on the books.

The bill would further enshrine marriage equality in federal law by requiring that any person who is considered married in their home state be considered married by the U.S. government. “This gives same sex and interracial couples additional certainty that they will continue to enjoy equal treatment under federal law as all other married couples — as the Constitution requires,” says a press release issued by the sponsors.

And it would provide other legal safeguards by barring anyone acting under a state law from denying full faith and credit to a marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the spouses. The U.S. attorney general would have the power to enforce this, and anyone harmed by such a denial would have a right to sue.

“Marriage equality is a constitutional right that has been well established by the Supreme Court as precedent, and this freedom should be protected,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said in the press release. “The bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act will enshrine and protect marriage equality and make sure legal same-sex, and interracial marriages are recognized. I take great pride in being a part of this bipartisan effort to protect the progress we have made on marriage equality, because we cannot allow this freedom and right to be denied.”

“In overturning Roe v. Wade, the conservative Supreme Court majority indicated it is willing to attack other constitutional rights, including same-sex and interracial marriage,” added Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “In fact, one justice specifically noted that the court’s Obergefell decision confirming same-sex marriage should be revisited. Our bill would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and ensure that marriage equality remains the law of the land.”

“The Respect for Marriage Act will protect same-sex and interracial marriages from any radical or bigoted decision that may come from the current extreme Supreme Court majority,” said U.S. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island. “As Chairman of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, I want the LGBTQ+ community to know that this caucus is fighting for them and their right to live freely. This legislation will protect their marriages and ensure they continue to be recognized, even if a future Supreme Court overturns landmark marriage equality decisions. I am proud of this bill, and I urge Congress to promptly pass this legislation.”

In the Senate, Baldwin, the first out lesbian in the body, and Feinstein, both Democrats, introduced the bill Monday with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who sometimes breaks with her party.

In the House, the measure’s lead sponsors include several LGBTQ+ representatives and allies — Cicilline, Sharice Davids, Mondaire Jones, Sean Patrick Maloney, Mark Pocan, Mark Takano, Angie Craig, Chris Pappas, Ritchie Torres, Joyce Beatty, Raul Ruiz, Judy Chu, and Hakeem Jeffries. All are Democrats. It was introduced by Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York.

It likely will come to a floor vote in the House this week, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced. “The Supreme Court’s extremist and precedent-ignoring decision in Dobbs v. Jackson [which overturned Roe] has shown us why it is critical to ensure that federal law protects those whose constitutional rights might be threatened by Republican-controlled state legislatures,” he said in a press release. “LGBTQ Americans and those in interracial marriages deserve to have certainty that they will continue to have their right to equal marriage recognized, no matter where they live, should the Court act on Justice Thomas’ draconian suggestion that the 2013 United States v. Windsor and 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges rulings be reconsidered or if it were to overturn Loving v. Virginia,” the latter being the 1967 decision that states could not ban interracial marriages.

The Human Rights Campaign praised the bill’s introduction. “The Defense of Marriage Act — which excluded legally married same-sex couples from accessing the federal rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage — is a stain upon our nation and deserves to be relegated to the trash bin of history,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison said in a press release. “With the Respect for Marriage Act, Congress has the opportunity to right this wrong by creating an inclusive law that also standardizes the mechanism for evaluating when a marriage should be given federal recognition and affirms that public acts, records, and judicial proceedings should be honored across this country.”

Along with HRC, organizations backing the legislation include the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress, Equality Federation, Family Equality, Freedom for All Americans, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Women’s Law Center, and PFLAG.

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