Biden Signs Respect For Marriage Act (UPDATED)

By Terrance Turner

Nov. 29, 2022

President Joe Biden has signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies marriage protections into federal law. The legislation applies to both interracial and same-sex marriages.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 13: People attend a bill signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Lawn of the White House December 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Respect for Marriage Act will codify same-sex and interracial marriages. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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The Senate just passed the bill on Nov. 29. 12 Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in voting for the bill. It passed 61-36.

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“No person acting under color of law of a State may deny—

(1) full faith and credit to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State pertaining to a marriage between 2 individuals, on the basis of the sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin of those individuals; or 2) a right or claim arising from such a marriage,” the legislation reads.

Under the bill, an individual will be considered married if their marriage was valid in the state or territory where it was performed. Those marriages must be recognized as legally binding, even in states where sodomy laws are still on the books.

The bill officially repeals the Defense of Marriage Act. President Bill Clinton signed the law in 1996. But he didn’t hold a signing ceremony for it. And seventeen years later, an article appeared in the Washington Post. Its author wrote, “I know now that even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.”

The author? William Jefferson Clinton.

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SCOTUS

The Supreme Court overturned DOMA that year in United States v. Windsor. Two years later, on June 26th, 2015, the Court guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry in Obergefell v. Hodges.(The Court legalized interracial marriage in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.) But after the Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, advocates feared that their rights were in danger. Justice Clarence Thomas signaled as much in the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe.

“In future cases we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedence including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergerfell,” Thomas wrote. The impact was clear. If the court overturned Roe, it could easily overturn the other decisions. So legislators got to work on a bill that would codify marriage rights into federal law.

Legislation Negotiation

Several versions of the bill have been introduced to Congress since 2009. According to the Washington Post, a version of the bill passed the House in January. But the Senate delayed its vote until after the midterms. The idea was to make sure the bill’s vote was negotiated on a bipartisan basis. It was.

A bipartisan group of senators — including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) — worked to bolster support for the bill. Per Politico, negotiators included language that preserves a 1993 religious liberty bill. That law prevents the government from placing a substantial burden on one’s religious liberty. It also states that churches, colleges and other non-profit religious groups don’t have to perform marriage services.

A March Public Religion Research Institute poll found that majorities of most major religious groups support same-sex marriage, including nearly all Unitarian Universalists (96%) and Hindus (86%). Additionally, about eight in ten Jewish Americans (83%), Buddhists (81%), and other Catholics of color (80%) also support same-sex marriage, as do about three in four white mainline Protestants (76%), white Catholics (74%), and Hispanic Catholics (72%). And most Orthodox Christians (58%), Black Protestants (55%), Muslims (55%), Hispanic Protestants (52%), and other Protestants of color (51%) support same-sex marriage.

But legislators still with the need to add these religious exemptions and hope of marshaling support for the bill. The gambit worked. Surprisingly, 12 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting for this bill. It now heads back to the House of Representatives for a vote and then to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature.

Biden is expected to sign the legislation. He says he will “promptly and proudly” do so.

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Reaction

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 29: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) arrives for a news conference after the Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act at the Capitol Building on November 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 61-36 in favor of the measure providing federal recognition and protection for same-sex and interracial marriages. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Baldwin, a lead sponsor of the legislation, is the first out lesbian ever elected to the Senate. She reacted to the bill’s passage in a statement today. “I’m proud to have worked across the aisle to get the job done for millions of loving couples in Wisconsin and across the country,” she said. “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.”

This story will be updated.

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