In a historic step forward for the rights of the LGBTQ community, the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act on a bipartisan vote, marking one of the final legislative achievements for Democrats before they lose unified control of Capitol Hill next January.
On the night of Tuesday, Nov. 29, The Senate made strides to legislatively protect marriage equality in federal law for the first time in a bipartisan vote of 61 – 36, with 12 Republican Senators joining every Democratic Senator in voting aye on the legislation. This stands as a historic moment for LGBTQ equality as the biggest federal legislative win since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Because of our work together, the rights of tens of millions of Americans will be strengthened under federal law,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader said. “That’s an accomplishment we should all be proud of.”
The bill ensures federal recognition of marriage regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of either spouse and requires all states to respect valid marriages entered into in other states. However, the bill does not codify the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states, as the Supreme Court held in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges is constitutionally required. It would not prevent states from outlawing or otherwise restricting marriage by same-sex couples in the event Obergefell is overturned.
“The fact that this bill passed with strong bipartisan support — earning the votes of 12 Republicans — again demonstrates that marriage equality enjoys growing bipartisan backing, is supported by a wide swath of the American people and is not going anywhere,” Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said. “We are closing this discriminatory chapter of our history — marriage equality is here to stay. And this is just the beginning — we have more work to do to fight with and for our transgender community, our BIPOC community and our youngest community members with the same passion and energy that we brought to the fight for marriage equality.”
Statistically, there is a trend of increased support for LGBTQ rights. According to a recent report from Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm, 71% of Americans support marriage for same-sex couples. Broken down by political affiliation, 55% of Republicans support same-sex marriage, along with 83% of Democrats and 73% of Independents.
According to recent poll from HRC, 64% of people living in battleground states — AZ, CA, GA, MI, NV, PA, WI, FL, NH, NC, OH, TX, CO and ME — support marriage equality, demonstrating the issue’s popularity even in politically divided states.
“For the last seven years, LGBTQ families across the country have been able to build their lives around their right to marriage equality,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Rights Project said. “The Respect for Marriage Act will go a long way to ensure an increasingly radical Supreme Court does not threaten this right, but LGBTQ rights are already under attack nationwide. Transgender people especially have had their safety, dignity and health care threatened by lawmakers across the country, including by members of this Congress. While we welcome the historic vote on this measure, members of Congress must also fight like trans lives depend on their efforts because trans lives do.”
The fight for trans rights is a growing conversation, especially among southern states, where anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and attacks are often noted. This year the Campaign for Southern Equality has repeatedly called for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act since the launch of the group’s Meeting the Moment campaign in the summer, following a legislative session full of anti-LGBTQ attacks and the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“For LGBTQ Southerners, the Respect for Marriage Act is a must-pass bill,” Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality said. “One-third of LGBTQ Americans live in the South, and without federal protections, are vulnerable to state-level political attacks seeking to roll back the freedom to marry. The South makes the case for why we urgently need this federal law – all of our families deserve respect and dignity, regardless of the state we live in.”
While it is clear that The Senate’s passing of the Respect for Marriage Act shows progress in national LGBTQ acceptace, the historic bill, now awaiting a pass from The House and a signature from President Joe Biden, stands as a step, not an end to the fight.
“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon said. “While Congress has taken an important step toward codifying marriage equality in federal law, it is incumbent on all of us to continue to push for passage of the comprehensive Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ individuals and our families from discrimination in all aspects of our everyday lives.”
She continued, “Today we celebrate this win, tomorrow we continue to fight for the justice and equity that every American deserves.”