Congress passes the Respect for Marriage Act


Ted Eytan/Creative Commons

This act repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and requires the U.S. federal government and all U.S. states and territories to recognize the validity of same-sex and interracial civil marriages

  Tuesday, December 13th, President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies protections into law for both same-sex and interracial couples. 

  This act specifies that states must recognize same-sex marriages across state lines and that same-sex couples have the same federal benefits as any married couple. In section 2 of the bill, the 117th congress states, “Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises. Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect.”

  After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (the right to an abortion), the push to codify these protections into federal law were louder than they’ve been in a long time, especially after the concurring opinion of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas which listed Obergefell v. Hodges (the case that affirmed the right of same-sex marriage) as another landmark case that would be “due for review” along with decisions protecting contraception rights. This worried many people, even President Biden explaining, “If the rationale of the decision as released were to be sustained, a whole range of rights are in question. A whole range of rights.”

  Let’s not be mistaken: the Respect for Marriage Act does not codify same-sex marriage itself; if the Supreme Court were to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, states that oppose same-sex marriage could outlaw it, just as anti-abortion states are doing after this summer’s ruling (the Dobbs decision). However, the act replaces provisions that define marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibits states from denying the validity of out-of-state marriages based on sex, race or ethnicity based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause under Article IV, Section 1 of the constitution. 

  In recent years, a Grinnell College National Poll shows a visible change in public opinion across the political spectrum in this past decade, with nearly 74 percent of Americans now saying they support the right of same-sex couples to be married, with all the rights that heterosexual couples have under the law.

  Democrats were joined by twelve Republican senators and 39 GOP representatives to pass the bill. It passed 258-169 in the House with bipartisan support after successfully going through the Senate the week prior in a 61-36 vote. Still, the vast majority of House and Senate Republicans opposed the bill but you know what, a win is a win. 

  Earlier in his decades-long occupation within the Senate, Biden voted for legislation that would restrain the progress of LGBTQ. In 2012 though, then-Vice President Biden announced his support for same-sex marriage on NBC’s Meet the Press, backing it even before President Obama did. This recognition for same-sex marriage and his now outspoken support for these rights eclipses his own personal evolution toward embracing gay rights over the course of his four-decade political career.

  Following the signing of the bill, standing on the South Lawn of the White House, President Biden cheered on the passing of the act and the people who made it happen, expressing, “So many of you put your relationships on the line, your jobs on the line, your lives on the line, to fight for the law I’m about to sign. For me and the entire nation: thank you, thank you, thank you.”