There’s no way around it; we are living in a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people, women and people of color. But our opponents will have an uphill climb if they want to roll back all of our rights.
That was evident in how the Respect for Marriage Act sailed through the House of Representatives 267-157 on Tuesday. In a rare show of bipartisanship, 47 House Republicans from all over this country — North Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, Florida, Texas, Iowa and South Carolina — including the third-ranking House Republican, Elise Stefanik — voted to protect marriage equality.
With the devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade putting access to safe, legal abortions in jeopardy for millions, many people fear that other court-protected civil rights could also be on the line — including marriage equality. Tuesday’s vote gave those worried about what the Dobbs v. Jackson decision could mean for their marriages a brief moment to exhale because it once again proved that marriage equality enjoys broad, bipartisan support.
The Respect for Marriage Act would ensure that federal protections for marriage equality are protected nationally through several provisions. Among other things, it does this by erasing a black mark in our nation’s code: the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and denied married same-sex couples over 1,100 federal benefits and protections.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a part of DOMA was unconstitutional, but the remainder of the law is still in place but unenforceable. The Respect for Marriage Act would also shore up other federal marriage benefits by affirming that couples who travel to another state to get married will still keep federal marriage benefits, even if their own state ceases to recognize marriage equality. It also ensures that states must recognize the public records — things like adoption orders — of other states and codifies the Supreme Court decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor, both of which rendered DOMA unenforceable.
As we await a Senate vote, people’s fears that their marriages could be in jeopardy are understandable. Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence in Dobbs has left communities with no choice but to be concerned. He explicitly stated that the court should “reconsider” other precedents, including landmark civil rights cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut, which protects access to birth control, Lawrence v. Texas, which protects same-sex intimacy, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which protects the right of same-sex couples to marry. That is a terrifying logical leap. But it is also important to note that no other justice agreed with him and that Justice Samuel Alito went out of his way to note that the Dobbs decision should not “cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
To be clear, there is no immediate impact on any of our other civil rights, including marriage, due to the Dobbs decision. But, of course, it isn’t that simple. The cases Thomas mentioned, as the dissent said, “are all part of the same constitutional fabric.” And the court’s decision in Dobbs emboldens anti-equality forces in states to continue to come after our hard-won civil liberties, as they have been coming after LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender and nonbinary youth, in statehouses across the country.
That’s why a move like we saw Tuesday was crucial. While bipartisanship in Congress may shock you, Republican support for marriage equality shouldn’t. The 47 votes they cast in favor of the House’s Respect for Marriage Act demonstrate that even Republican lawmakers know marriage equality — which is supported by 7 in 10 Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll — is (and must remain) the law of the land.
Indeed, support for marriage equality comes from people from all walks of life, all faiths and all political ideologies — and has rapidly increased. According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute, support for marriage equality increased by 14 percentage points between 2014 and 2022. The institute’s data also showed that nearly half of Republicans now support the right of same-sex couples to marry legally, while 81% of Democrats and 73% of independents favor marriage equality. And today, majorities of most religious groups favor marriage equality, including 86% of Hindus, 83% of Jewish Americans, 81% of Buddhists, 80% of Catholics of color, 76% of white Protestants, 74% of white Catholics, and 72% of Hispanic Catholics. And only three states have less than majority support for marriage equality. The 47 Republicans who joined 220 Democrats in the House recognize this.
The end of marriage equality would have catastrophic consequences, much like the devastating consequences of the Dobbs decision. But it is clear that our opponents have a hard fight ahead of them if they come after our marriages because we are on high alert. The LGBTQ+ community has been living in a state of emergency and we are ready for this fight. Widespread support for marriage equality is rising too fast to be ignored, and the American people, including many in the Republican Party, are with us.
For now, the Respect for Marriage Act is in the hands of the Senate. I strongly urge senators to follow the example their colleagues in the House set and vote to pass this bill to protect the rights given in Obergefell that so many same-sex couples rely upon.