The Respect for Marriage Act: The What and the Why
By André Wade, State Director of Silver State Equality
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the Respect for Marriage Act and the LGBTQ+ community. If you thought that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) already granted marriage equality to same-gender couples back in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, then you are right. However, a new possible threat caused Congress to take proactive steps to further cement marriage equality in the United States.
The threat stems from remarks made by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion, which rolled back reproductive rights, that “ … in future cases we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including … Obergefell.” In other words, maybe we should strike down same-gender marriage.
If Justice Thomas had his way, he would repeal marriage equality, thereby leaving it up to individual states to decide whether or not same-gender marriages were valid. That would take us back to pre-Obergefell days when someone could be legally married in one state and move to another state that doesn’t recognize same-gender marriages, thereby upending the lives and legal protections and benefits of same-gender married couples.
The Respect for Marriage Act aims to make sure that a marriage that is valid in one state is equally valid in another and that no state or government official can deny the legality of an out-of-state marriage. It’s an important step Congress can take to further protect LGBTQ+ families from any legal loopholes to ensure dignity, stability and the ongoing protections that marriage affords.
In July 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill (267—157), making it the most pro-LGBTQ+ vote in Congressional history. An astounding 47 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. In November 2022, the U.S. Senate advanced the Respect for Marriage Act when it voted to stop the right-wing filibuster and advance the bill to a full Senate vote. In that procedural maneuver, 12 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting in favor, getting slightly more than the 60 votes required. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate as a whole after Thanksgiving. Once it passes out of the Senate, the bill will go back to the House of Representatives for concurrence in Senate amendments. Once it passes those hurdles, the bill will go to the President to be signed into law.
In Nevada, discriminatory language on marriage was removed from the Nevada constitution that said marriage was only between one man and one woman when Question 2, a ballot measure, was passed in November 2020 by a majority of Nevada voters. As a result, Nevada became the first and only state to take such action, adding an extra layer of protections for same gender married couples in the event that the Supreme Court reversed marriage equality.
All of this is an important reminder that LGBTQ+ legal protections are only as good as those we elect into office. Fortunately, marriage equality is one of those issues that, according to a Gallup poll, more than 70 percent of Americans favor. This support is reflected in the bipartisan support for the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress. But other issues that are important to the equality movement, such as support for transgender equality, don’t have the same level of support, according to Pew Research, where 47 percent of Americans express discomfort at the pace of change related to gender identity issues.
Despite this discomfort, Nevadans recently voted to pass the most inclusive Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, Question 1, which adds constitutional protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
During Nevada’s legislative session next year, there are plans to introduce two bills that would require certain insurance companies to cover gender-affirming care for transgender people, which could save their lives. Another bill would require the Nevada Department of Corrections to protect transgender inmates from discrimination, harassment, and violence, which they often face while incarcerated.
Although the Nevada legislature is made up of a majority of pro-equality Democrats, it is unclear what will happen if a bill proposing to protect transgender Nevadans is signed into law by the new Republican Governor-elect.
In this current political and social environment, LGBTQ+ Americans can use all of the legal protections we can get, which is why we urge Congress to pass and the President to sign the Respect for Marriage Act into federal law.
This article was originally published in the 2022 Celebration of the Arts Issue of Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine, and can be read in its original format here.