On December 8th, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.8404, also known as the Respect for Marriage Act, by a vote of 258-169. This legislation cements the federal rights of marriages of same-sex couples and ensures that the same legal obligation to protect same-sex marriages exists as it does for marriages between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage was legalized on June 26th, 2015, in the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644. However, Supreme Court decisions are not law, which was emphasized by the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. In the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe, the concurring opinion stated that Obergefell should be overturned as well, which inspired action from Congress to protect same-sex marriage.
The law has two main components, both of which ensure that marriage equality is protected nationwide. The first component is the repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. This law allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, which is 35 states have statutory or constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. This 1996 act also excluded same-sex couples from over one thousand federal benefits and protections given to heterosexual couples, so the overturning of this law was significant. The second component of the Respect for Marriage act ensures that if a same-sex marriage was valid in the state in which they married, both the federal government and all states must consider a couple married.
Though this act is a win for LGBTQ+ rights nationwide, it is also somewhat restricted in its scope. Because it is a federal law, though states are forced to recognize same-sex marriages, they are not forced to legalize it. The institution of marriage is regulated and overseen at the state level, and Congress does not have the power to enforce state legislation. Despite this limitation, it certainly represents a step forward for equality.
Photo by Abigail Bromberger
Berg-Brousseau, H. (2022). U.S. House of Representatives Passes Final Respect for Marriage Act, Bill Now Goes to President Biden for Signature, Human Rights Campaign. https://www.hrc.org/press-releases/u-s-house-of-representatives-passes-final-respect-for-marriage-act-bill-now-goes-to-president-biden-for-signature