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.