Nov 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

What the Respect for Marriage Act does and doesn't do

Photo of Susan Collins speaking

Sen. Susan Collins speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act on Nov. 29, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The Respect for Marriage Act, a historic bill to codify the right to same-sex and interracial marriages, cleared its main obstacle on Tuesday after it passed the Senate — but the measure's provisions don't go as far as many had hoped they would.

Why it matters: Lawmakers crafted the legislation after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, in a concurring opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. The bill, which the Democratic-led House is expected to vote on in December, would not necessarily preserve the status quo as currently dictated by Obergefell.

What the bill does: Ensure federal recognition of marriage regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin and require all states to recognize valid marriages conducted in places where they are legal.

  • The legislation notably repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which established a federal definition of marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

What the bill doesn't do: Require all 50 states to allow same-sex marriage as is held under the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.

  • It also does not prohibit states from taking steps to ban or restrict same-sex marriage if Obergefell were overturned.

Worth noting: Under the religious freedoms amendment, nonprofit religious organizations — including churches, faith-based social agencies and religious educational institutions — would not be required to "provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage," the text of the bill states.

  • Any such refusal "shall not create any civil claim or cause of action."
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