Today the United States Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, a major step toward protecting the freedom to marry from the threat of far-right political forces seeking to overturn U.S. Supreme Court precedent on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and interracial couples. The bill passed with 61 votes, including from every Democratic Senator and 12 Republican Senators, signaling the strong bipartisan support for the freedom to marry nationwide.
Southern Senators voting “yes” included Sen. Thom Tillis and Sen. Richard Burr in NC; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia; Sen. Jon Ossoff in Georgia (Sen. Raphael Warnock also supports the bill); and Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine in Virginia. Previously, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the House of Representatives with support from every Democrat and 47 Republicans, and 40% of Congressmembers from Southern states.
Polling shows that 71% of Americans support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, including majority support from Republicans and majority support in every state in the South. Support has steadily climbed every year since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling.
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (she/her), Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said today:
“For LGBTQ Southerners, the Respect for Marriage Act is a must-pass bill. One-third of LGBTQ Americans live in the South and, without federal protections, are vulnerable to state-level political attacks seeking to roll back the freedom to marry. The South makes the case for why we urgently need this federal law – all of our families deserve respect and dignity, regardless of the state we live in.”
“Support for the Respect for Marriage Act from Senators and Representatives across the political spectrum and throughout the South mirrors what we’re seeing on the ground: Ever-growing public support for LGBTQ equality. Also true is the fact that our work continues, and we will push harder than ever to secure full protections for LGBTQ people under the law and to defeat the relentless attacks on transgender youth playing out across the country.”
This year the Campaign for Southern Equality has repeatedly called for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act since the launch of our Meeting the Moment campaign this summer, following a brutal legislative session full of anti-LGBTQ attacks and the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thousands of LGBTQ and allied Southerners have contacted their U.S. Senators, and we have shared the stories of Southern LGBTQ families online and in the press.
This month CSE published an open letter calling for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, signed by many of the LGBTQ people who helped lead a Southern campaign calling for the freedom to marry a decade ago. The couples participated in CSE’s “We Do” campaign, in which couples requested marriage licenses in Southern states, provoking denials and shining a light on the urgent need for federal action on the freedom to marry. The effort, from 2011-2015, was the largest sustained campaign around marriage equality in the South, taking place at a time when many predicted it would be decades before the freedom to marry would be achieved in the region. Read the letter here.
Dick Jennings is one of many Southerners who took action on the Respect for Marriage Act. He is a Republican, the father of a lesbian daughter, and the founder of Jennings Builders Supply in Western North Carolina. This summer he published a piece in The Charlotte Observer calling on Sen. Burr and Sen. Tillis to support the Respect for Marriage Act. He said today:
“The passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is a victory for LGBTQ Americans, for parents of LGBTQ children like myself, and for the bipartisan supermajority of Americans who support the freedom to marry. As a conservative, I’ve always believed in limited government – and that people should be able to make their own personal decisions about their families and their faith. To see 11 Republican Senators vote in favor of this commonsense bill restored some of my faith in the party, and to see both Senators from North Carolina vote yes makes me even prouder to call North Carolina home. All people – including LGBTQ people like my daughter – deserve to see their committed relationships granted dignity by their country, and that’s what the Respect for Marriage Act does.”
Data from The Williams Institute show that at least 200,000 same-sex couples live in a Southern state.
Across the South, far right elected officials have taken aim at the Obergefell ruling for years. Key examples:
- In October, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said in a televised debate that he believes marriage should be “between a man and a woman.”
- This summer Texas’ U.S. Senator Ted Cruz said he believed Obergefell was wrongly decided.
- A 2022 bill in Tennessee attempted to create a new marriage class restricted to different-sex couples.
- A 2019 policy in Alabama allowed anti-LGBTQ clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
- A 2018 bill in South Carolina aimed to officially designate marriages between same-sex couples as “parody marriages.”
- A 2016 law in Mississippi specifically allows businesses and individuals to deny service to same-sex couples and transgender people.