Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of 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 Respect for Marriage Act would fully repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” require the federal government to respect marriages between same-sex couples and interracial couples for all federal purposes, and require states to respect marriages performed in other states. The bill is one element of codifying 1967’s Loving v. Virginia, which outlawed bans on interracial couples from marrying; 2013’s Windsor v. United States, which struck down DOMA; and 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.
The vote was prompted by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence in June’s Dobbs opinion overturning the federal right to abortion care, in which he called other landmark precedents – including Lawrence v. Texas (the right to consensual same-sex relationships), Griswold v. Connecticut (the right to contraception), and Obergefell v. Hodges – “demonstrably erroneous decisions” and invited challenges to them.
Polling shows that 71% of Americans support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Support has steadily climbed every year since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling.
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (she/her pronouns), Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said today:
“There is a unique need for this federal law in the South. For the one-third of LGBTQ Americans who live in the South, the Respect for Marriage Act is vital legislation. All LGBTQ Southerners live in a state with laws prohibiting the freedom to marry – laws that are unenforceable because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling. Extreme anti-LGBTQ forces are working at every level to erode LGBTQ equality, and if they prevail in having Obergefell revisited or overturned, these families and marriages would be at risk. We need to be doing everything we can to protect LGBTQ equality in this unprecedented era of attack – and now, the Senate should follow the lead of the House by passing the Respect for Marriage Act.”
“We must all be clear-eyed about the reality that we are entering a new chapter in the movement for LGBTQ equality – one where the far-right political movement feels more emboldened than ever to roll back fundamental American rights and freedoms. This is not a hypothetical scenario: Every year lawmakers at every level of government try to diminish same-sex couples’ marriage rights and infringe on many other LGBTQ liberties, despite the fact that a supermajority of Americans support marriage equality. It’s up to all of us, from our members of Congress to state lawmakers to local communities, to band together and prepare for the work ahead so we can live in a country where your zip code doesn’t determine your rights.”
Data from The Williams Institute show that at least 200,000 same-sex couples live in a Southern state. Protecting the freedom to marry through legislative measures like the Respect for Marriage Act disproportionately concerns these families, all of whom live in states with either an unenforceable constitutional amendment or state statute banning same-sex couples from marriage. A new report from the Movement Advancement Project details the national patchwork of state laws and amendments related to marriage.
Across the South, far right elected officials have taken aim at the Obergefell ruling for years. Key examples:
- Just this week 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.