The U.S. Senate voted on Nov. 16 to clear a key procedural hurdle and advance legislation protecting marriage equality. The action all but ensures that the legislation, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives this summer, will become law.
The Respect for Marriage Act requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It also repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, although most of its provisions had already been invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court ruled in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause protects marriage equality, a ruling that had the effect of extending it to all 50 states. However, the Supreme Court has become more conservative due to appointments made by President Donald Trump, and many advocates of marriage equality fear that the court may overturn Obergefell. If that happens, the issue will return to the states. Under the Respect for Marriage Act, no state would be required to allow same-sex marriage, but all states would have to extend recognition to legal marriages performed in other states.
The bill passed 62-37, with 12 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats.
“The Respect for Marriage Act is a vital step in our nation’s march toward freedom without favor and equality without exception,” said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser. “Today the Senate re-affirmed that marriages between two consenting adults, regardless of race or sex, must be treated as equal under the law. America’s constitutional promise of church-state separation requires this equal treatment and ensures that we all can live as ourselves and marry the person we love.”
But Christian nationalist organizations were furious and immediately began spreading misinformation about the bill.
In an email to supporters, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, claimed that under the bill, “disrespect for the institution of marriage will become national policy.”
Added Perkins, “The Senate will paint a bullseye on the backs of concerned parents and people of faith who don’t want to see one more woke agenda item pushed through their local school. This destructive bill goes further than the status quo. It equates belief in natural marriage with racism. Do we want this being taught in our schools?”
The American Family Association issued a statement blaring, “The Respect for Marriage Act will be used by the IRS to strip Christian schools and universities of their nonprofit status. The Act will be used by the Biden administration to target as many Christian nonprofit organizations as possible. The Act will also be used to prevent any state from challenging, or even questioning, the reigning ideology of same-sex marriage and the entire LGBTQ+ agenda that comes with it.”
In fact, nothing in the bill affects what is taught in public schools, penalizes parents who oppose marriage equality or empowers the IRS to move against Christian institutions.
The bill also contains language reiterating that no house of worship can be compelled to perform same-sex ceremonies. A separate provision protects tax-exempt religious colleges from being denied benefits or rights that are unrelated to a marriage.
Some conservative religious organizations reconsidered their past opposition to the bill. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement supporting the act. LDS officials said the church still opposes same-sex marriage but added, “We believe this approach is the way forward. As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”