Lawmakers Answer Supreme Court Threat to LGBTQ+ Equality With Respect for Marriage Act

Members of Congress alarmed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal on abortion rights and threats to other basic freedoms on Monday introduced legislation intended to ensure protections for LGBTQ+ and interracial marriages.

“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 Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement.

“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,” he added. “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.”

Concerns about marriage equality have mounted since Justice Clarence Thomas penned a concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggesting that in addition to overturning Roe v. Wade, the court should reconsider the decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas, and Obergefell v. Hodges—the last of which legalized same-sex marriages nationwide.

As the bill’s sponsors explained, the Respect for Marriage Act would:

  • Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): The Supreme Court effectively rendered DOMA inert with its landmark decisions in United States v. Windsor and Obergefell. This unconstitutional and discriminatory law, however, still officially remains on the books. The bill would repeal this statute once and for all.
  • Enshrine marriage equality for federal law purposes: The bill requires, for federal law purposes, that an individual be considered married if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. 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.
  • Provide additional legal protections: The bill prohibits any person acting under the color of state law from denying full faith and credit to an out-of-state marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the individuals in the marriage, provides the attorney general with the authority to pursue enforcement actions, and creates a private right of action for any individual harmed by a violation of this provision.

The push for the bill is being led by Cicilline and the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus’ eight co-chairs; House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.); Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.); Tri-Caucus Chairs Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), and Judy Chu (D-Calif.); and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“We will not sit idly by as Republicans and their activist judges take our country backward. They started with reproductive rights and they’re targeting protections for same-sex marriage next,” declared Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Maloney and other Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus co-chairs noted how their own lives could be impacted if Thomas’ opinion—which has fueled fresh demands from progressives for his impeachment, expanding the court, and other potential action by Congress—foreshadows a future ruling by the right-wing justices.

“I’ve been with my husband Randy for 30 years, but we’ve only spent eight of them as a legally married couple,” Maloney explained. “For families like mine, the Respect for Marriage Act is a necessary step to protect our fundamental rights.”

Reps. Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, both New York Democrats, were the first openly gay Black men elected to Congress.

“Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs made clear that marriage equality is next on the chopping block,” said Jones. “As the first openly gay, Black member of Congress, this fight is personal to me. I still remember where I was when the New York Legislature passed marriage equality, and when Obergefell was decided years later.”

“Progress must be fought for and protected,” he continued. “To protect fundamental rights, Congress must use its legislative powers. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Respect for Marriage Act today. It’s past time for Congress to establish that marriage equality is the law of the land and ensure Americans across the country can continue to marry who they love without discrimination.”

While the Respect for Marriage Act is expected to be voted on in the Democrat-controlled House this week, the legislation would have to make it through an evenly split Senate—in which the filibuster rule enables the GOP to block progressive priorities—to reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill’s introduction comes after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came under fire for saying—as some other Republicans in Congress have recently suggested—that the high court was “overreaching” in its 2015 Obergefell decision, which “was clearly wrong.”

Among those who criticized Cruz was Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of the caucus members backing the new bill.

“This is deeply personal to me. My husband, Phil, and I have been married for more than 15 years,” Pocan said. “The House and Senate need to pass the Respect for Marriage Act immediately to protect marriage equality.”

 

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