Editor’s Note: For the next two weeks, “The Wall of Separation” will be recounting the top 10 church-state stories from 2022. Today’s post looks at Americans United’s efforts to advance bills like the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress.
When the Supreme Court abolished the constitutional right to abortion in June’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, AU warned that the court’s ultra-conservative bloc was paving the way for more attacks on civil rights.
“The court has opened the door to a nationwide abortion ban. The right to contraception is at risk. So are LGBTQ rights. So is progress on racial justice. Religious extremists and their lawmaker allies are willing to destroy our democracy to force all of us to live by their narrow beliefs. None of our rights are safe,” AU President and CEO Rachel Laser said at the time.
That’s why AU and allies have been pushing Congress to take action. We’ve made progress – and any day now we expect a key victory in the fight to protect marriage equality.
Respect For Marriage Act
This week the House of Representatives is expected to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which will ensure that the marriages of same-sex and interracial couples are treated with equal respect. The House already approved the bill once in a bipartisan vote; the Senate last month approved a slightly different version of the act (also in a bipartisan vote), and now the House must vote again to pass the final version of the bill. Then President Joe Biden can sign the bill into law.
As AU’s Rob Boston has explained, “The act requires all states and the federal government to recognize all valid marriages between same-sex and interracial couples. It also repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a law that barred the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples and permitted states to refuse to recognize them (although its effect had already been invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court).”
Despite what Christian nationalist opponents claim, the Respect for Marriage Act does not penalize people or religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. It essentially maintains the status quo – a necessary step given fears that this conservative Supreme Court could overturn the landmark decisions Obergefell v. Hodges, which gave same-sex couples the nationwide right to marry, and Loving v. Virginia, which gave interracial couples that right.
“The Respect for Marriage Act is a vital step in our nation’s march toward freedom without favor and equality without exception,” Laser told the Associated Press.
Women’s Health Protection Act
Even before the Dobbs opinion dropped, Americans United was part of the coalition that called on Congress to protect abortion access by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would establish a statutory, nationwide right to abortion. When Justice Samuel Alito’s draft Dobbs opinion leaked a month early, AU and allies urged the Senate to follow in the House’s footsteps by passing the bill, but the WHPA, while it received a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate, failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
“The Senate’s failure to protect nationwide abortion access undermines both reproductive and religious freedom,” AU’s Laser said, while promising that AU would continue to take action to protect both religious and reproductive freedom.
Additional Federal Advocacy
Americans United continued to press Congress and the Biden administration to advance laws and policies that support church-state separation, religious freedom and the many issues that depend on them. We will continue to advocate for the Do No Harm Act, which protects religious freedom while ensuring it is not used as a license to harm others; the Equality Act, which expands nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups while preventing religious freedom from being misused as a loophole; and policy fixes that we prioritized for the Biden administration in our “Agenda to Restore & Protect Religious Freedom,” like enforcing the Johnson Amendment and protecting the religious freedom of people who use government-funded social services.
You can help us urge Congress to protect church-state separation by joining us at the Summit for Religious Freedom (SRF) in Washington, D.C., on April 22-24, 2023. On the final day of SRF, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in Lobby Day on Capitol Hill and meet with the offices of members of Congress. Learn more here.