Senate Passes Respect for Marriage Act, Here’s What’s Next

Feature image photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The United States Senate has passed the Biden-backed Respect for Marriage Act with a vote of 61 to 36. The language of the bill was debated for months to appease the “religious liberty” concerns of conservatives in the House, but the legislation that was passed today does what it set out to do: It ensures that same-gender and interracial marriages will be recognized by the federal government, regardless of the laws of individual states. It also repeals the 1996 Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as commitment “between a man and a woman.”

The bill was conceived as a way to calm fears that the overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court will overturn the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-gender marriage, the same way they overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year.

The bill will now move to the House, where it is expected to be voted on — and passed — as early as next Tuesday. A similar version of this bill passed the House already in 2022. At the time, 50 Republicans backed it. The language of the Respect for Marriage Act was worked out with Republicans in the House, and was crafted by a bipartisan group including Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). It was also endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Union of Orthodox Jewish congregations, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

From the House, the bill will move to President Biden’s desk. He is expected to sign it into law immediately.

“Millions of same-sex and interracial couples made this moment possible by living openly as their authentic selves, changing the hearts and minds of people around them,” the first openly gay Senator Tammy Baldwin said after the vote. “This legislation will protect the hard-fought progress we’ve made on marriage equality and I look forward to the Respect for Marriage Act becoming the law of the land.”

I know there are lots of complicated feelings about marriage equality in LGBTQ activists groups, but as a married lesbian living in New York City — but hailing from the rural south, while my wife’s family still lives in the suburban midwest — it’s a huge relief to me. In the early days of the Covid pandemic here in NYC, there was a field hospital in Central Park run by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, one of the most openly homophobic Christian “charities” in the world. My now-wife and I had been together for a decade but weren’t yet married. While NYC-based hospitals have always respected that, I had no way to know how a hospital run by Billy Graham’s son would treat us. I can’t imagine having to live with that fear hanging over my head every day, worrying that my wife and I would be kept apart in dire circumstances because our relationship isn’t Jesus-approved. And now, it looks like I won’t have to live with that particular anxiety, because my marriage will be federally recognized no matter where we go in the United States.

Now my main focus can remain advocating for Biden to get Brittney Griner home.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1532 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I’m so relieved. I hope if the worst happens and SCOTUS overturns Obergefell, a state with gay marriage will offer zoom marriages, where you can fill everything out online so people won’t have to travel to another state.

    The bill passing the house should be no problem, 46 House Republicans voted for the bill last time and the only change is a religious freedom amendment so that should only bring more Republicans to the table.

  2. Honestly this doesn’t feel like a victory worth celebrating. It seems like they’re pretty much codifying the right to discriminate based on religion. Not to be a cynic but my spidey senses are signaling something nefarious is afoot

      • This repeals DOMA so it can never come back into action, we shouldn’t play russian roulette here, we saw what happened with abortion, we need to pass trigger laws like these that won’t leave us completely without any rights, or not getting any of the 100 to 1000 federal benefits that come with marriage. This Supreme Court will overturn it, it’s only a matter of time, we had 50 years to pass a trigger law on abortion in states and in the federal government and we failed.

        The federal government can’t force states to hand out marriage licenses so this is the best they can do. It’s so easy to be a negative nancy.

    • The religious freedom amendment is simply there to give the Republicans voting for the bill something to point at, there’s nothing there that wasn’t already established. People will still be allowed to deny service to a gay wedding, venues will still be able to deny a gay couple a venue on religious grounds. We will continue to live in a Christian fascist state.

  3. thanks for covering this heather. it also affirms that discriminating against ppl getting married based on their gender is legal and “decent and honorable.” its an improvement on where we were before which was a threat of that discrimination being legal all the time if obergefell is overturned. but a super yuck law to read as a member of the group whose discrimination is being debated and upheld as “decent and honorable.” and jesus probs WOULD approve of gay marriages or at least its a coin toss. he didnt say a word about it that we have a record of (abortion either). i am so so sick of religious ppl using jesus to discriminate when everything he did in his actual life as documented was about busting discriminations of his society.

    • ps this is petty but what i’d do for a count of the lawmakers who advocated and voted for the amendment that says “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family” who have had or are in affairs. my fight here is not with affairs, it’s with hypocrisy.

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