The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges ushered in marriage equality nationwide. Families no longer had to worry over whether their relationships were recognized by a patchwork of state laws, but instead could rest assured that their marriages would be treated equally no matter where they lived. On that monumental day in 2015, we affirmed what we have always known to be true: Love is love.
However, that promise of marriage equality came under question this past summer. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022 effectively overturning the 50-year precedent set forth by Roe v. Wade, many past cases — especially those furthering LGBTQ+ rights in recent decades — became at risk of being overturned. While the Supreme Court’s decision only had an immediate impact on abortion access and reproduction rights, Justice Clarence Thomas invited a challenge to other court precedents, including Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas. Marriage equality still remained the law of the land, but it became more important than ever that we codify that right once and for all.
The Revival of the Respect for Marriage Act
Following the overturn of Roe, pro-equality legislators saw the potential threat to marriage equality and went into action. Originally introduced by members of Congress in 2009 before Obergefell, the Respect for Marriage Act was once again brought for consideration before Congress. This legislation would ensure both same-sex and interracial couples maintain their existing federal rights under the law regardless of potential future action by the federal courts. Specific protections under the bill include:
Guaranteeing the federal rights, benefits and obligations of marriages in the federal code. This includes, but is not limited to: social security, veteran’s spousal benefits, recognition of estate and gift taxes, joint tax filing, leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Repealing the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.
Affirming that public acts, records and proceedings should be recognized by all states. This includes adoption decrees, divorce settlements and the listing of parents on birth certificates.
While the Respect for Marriage Act may have been introduced at a time when marriage equality was only a reality in a handful of states, its relevancy today could not be more profound. The threat of rolling back our rights is too dire, and the need to safeguard those rights is more urgent than ever before.
Growing Support Around Marriage Equality
A future Supreme Court decision undoing marriage equality would not only counter the precedent set forth by past cases, but also be out of touch with public sentiment. Marriage equality is more popular than ever, with 71% of Americans — including a majority of Republicans — supporting marriage equality. Any action to undermine same-sex or interracial marriages would simply be out of touch with the times we live in.
This support for marriage equality was put to the test when the Respect for Marriage Act was reintroduced and voted on in the House in July 2022. The bill passed with bipartisan support in a vote of 267-157, with 47 Republican lawmakers joining every Democrat in casting a vote in favor of keeping marriage equality intact. As demonstrated through this vote, marriage equality isn’t — and shouldn’t be — a partisan issue.
As the bill moved to the Senate for consideration, HRC mobilized efforts to show elected officials that the time to pass this crucial legislation is now. To date, over 225 businesses reflecting 8.5 million employees have signed onto a letter supporting the Respect for Marriage Act and encouraging the Senate to bring it to a vote. HRC has also been working with more than 3 million engaged members and the nation’s 62 million “Equality Voters” to campaign for the legislation nationwide.
Thousands of calls and emails have been sent to Senate offices. Dozens of letter drop-offs have been coordinated in crucial states. A campaign telling the stories of real families and the impact the Respect for Marriage Act would have on them has been launched. And we’re just getting started.
Making History and Protecting Families
All of our work around the Respect for Marriage Act paid off on November 29, 2022, when the Senate voted in favor of the bill in a bipartisan vote of 61-36. Thanks to the leadership of figures like Sen. Tammy Baldwin — the first openly LGBTQ+ members of the Senate — our country took a gigantic step forward to ensure the rights we fought so hard for would not be lost. The House swiftly took up the amended bill, passing it once again in a bipartisan vote that also marked one of the last legislative victories Speaker Nancy Pelosi would celebrate during her time leading the chamber.
On December 13, in front of thousands of guests on the White House South Lawn, President Biden officially signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law. In signing the bill, he once again reiterated what he shared over 10 years ago in his historic speech in support of marriage equality: No one should be denied the right to marry who they love simply for being who they are. It is the steadfast support of President Biden, pro-equality elected officials and HRC members and supporters that have allowed this landmark legislation to become the law of the land. As we celebrate this milestone, we also continue to advocate for the Equality Act, another crucial piece of legislation that would expand essential non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in housing, education, health care and more. By mobilizing and making our voices heard at the polls, we can continue to elect pro-equality leaders who will champion the issues we hold near and create a better future for every LGBTQ+ person.