November 28, 2023

Biden Signs Bill Protecting Same-Sex, Interracial Marriages at Federal Level

3 min read

by Katherine Gypson

U.S. President Joe Biden signed landmark legislation Tuesday protecting same-sex and interracial marriages at the federal level.

“America takes a vital step toward equality, for liberty and justice — not just for some, but for everyone. Toward creating a nation where decency, dignity and love are recognized, honored and protected,” Biden said before signing the Respect for Marriage Act.

The legislation repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman under federal law. It would also require states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed in other states, although it does not prevent states from passing laws banning those marriages.

“For millions of Americans, the impacts of this law are necessary and absolutely fundamental,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the White House signing ceremony. “It enshrines equality, ensuring same-sex and interracial couples can access all legal protections and financial benefits that marriage affords.”

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision. But the court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision in June, overturning a right to abortion at the federal level, raised concerns about federal protections for other rights.

In his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider other decisions based on the right to privacy, such as guarantees for the right to marry or the right to use birth control, arguing the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee those rights. Thomas’ opinion led to widespread concern the court would next move to overturn the right of same-sex couples to wed. A bipartisan group of senators worked on the Respect for Marriage Act to address this possibility.

Republican Senator Mike Lee said during debate on the Senate floor that this legislation was unnecessary.

“A single line from a single concurring opinion does not make the case for legislation that seriously threatens religious liberty. The Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary. States are not denying recognition of same-sex marriage. And there’s no serious risk of anyone losing recognition,” he said.

The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month by a vote of 258-169, with significant support from Republicans.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization advancing religious freedom, said in a statement that the Respect for Marriage Act was unconstitutional and did not provide “any protection for religious individuals or organizations, and the subsequent amendments to the bill exclude a large percentage of constitutionally and statutorily protected religious organizations.”

But Republican Senator Susan Collins, another co-sponsor of the legislation, said on the Senate floor that concerns about religious liberty were a false argument.

“This legislation would make clear in federal law that nonprofit religious organizations and religious educational institutions cannot be compelled to participate in or support the solicitation or celebration of marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs,” she said.

In a May 2022 Gallup poll, 71% of Americans said they supported same-sex marriage. Only 27% supported such unions when the poll was first taken in 1996.

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