Respect for Marriage Act Advances in the Senate, Paving the Way for a New Era of LGBTQIA+ Rights

November 20, 2022

LGBTQIA+ Celebration
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Written by Lily Filippatos

Brought to you by Filippatos Empoyment Law, Litigation & ADR

The Respect for Marriage Act successfully progressed in the US Senate this past Wednesday, a major stride toward codifying federal protections for same-sex marriage. The vote was 62-to-37, with only 12 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.

The bill must still win passage in the Senate and clear through the House before being signed off by President Biden. However, seeing as it has already cleared its most difficult hurdle—a 50-50 Senate with a 60-vote threshold—many expect the legislation to pass soon after Thanksgiving.

Moving in the Right Direction

The advancement of this bill is indicative of a crucial shift in the American political climate. Same-sex marriage, once a highly controversial issue, is now much more widely accepted. Indeed, surveys show that more than 70% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support marriage equality. Despite this vast and bipartisan public support, many G.O.P. lawmakers still oppose the issue, with 37 Republican Senators voting no on the Respect for Marriage Act.

Notably, however, Mormon and Republican Senator Mitt Romney voted in favor of the legislation, citing certain religious liberty protections that have been incorporated into the bill as his reason. For example, churches and other nonprofit religious organizations will still have their tax exempt status protected regardless of their stance on the matter.

Senator Romney’s vote followed one day after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would back the legislation, a milestone that many would have deemed inconceivable. Indeed, it is remarkable for an entity that has historically vehemently opposed same-sex marriage to have finally changed its ways.

Specifics of the Legislation

The Respect for Marriage Act would not require any state to allow same-sex marriage. It would, however, repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (1996), which denied same-sex couples federal rights.

While the Respect for Marriage Act has been widely referred to as codifying same-sex marriage into law, it does not, in truth, extend as far as the 2015 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to issue same-sex marriage certificates. It will only require the federal government and states to recognize legal same-sex marriages.

If, for instance, Obergefell were to be overturned (the possibility of which has terrified many since the Roe decision), a state could theoretically ban same-sex marriage. However, it would still have to recognize marriages from other states, as would the federal government.

Post-Roe Implications

Most Republicans treated the vote as if it were a political stunt by the Democrats, mere fearmongering. They dismissed it as premature and unnecessary, arguing that there is no immediate threat to marriage equality.

To this the obvious reply is that the immediate threat came the moment Justice Clarence Thomas set forth his concurring opinion, in which he urged the court to reconsider other landmark civil rights cases, including Obergefell v. Hodges.

Senator Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay woman to be elected to the House and the Senate, argued that the LGBTQ+ community is “scared for good reason” about the potential revocation of their rights. Indeed, Senator Baldwin asserted that the same legal arguments the court utilized to overturn Roe could easily be applied to other cases.

“The Supreme Court should not be in a position to undermine the stability of families with the stroke of a pen,” Senator Baldwin went on to say, the Respect for Marriage Act serving as crucial step toward thwarting such a dynamic. And, while it may be true that the overturning of same-sex marriage is quite unlikely, the notion that it is possible is certainly not farfetched, given what we have just seen unfold in regards to a right that was decades older and had more precedent behind it.

Thus, after widespread fear that the Roe decision may lead to the loss of marriage equality next, the advancement of the Respect for Marriage Act is certainly a sigh of relief for the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies. Every citizen of this nation deserves the right to marry whomever they choose; indeed, all people should have the right to love freely, without living in fear that they may one day have their rights stripped away.

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We at Filippatos PLLC stand in proud solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. We believe that all people deserve the right to exist freely, no matter who they love or how they express their gender. If you are experiencing discrimination at work due to your sexuality or gender expression, please give us a call at 888-9-JOBLAW for a free consultation. We will do our utmost to help secure you the justice you deserve.