The Washington Post

Popular and moral

The Respect for Marriage Act must pass — and Republican­s should support it.


THE AMERICAN public overwhelmi­ngly supports marriage equality. More than 70 percent believe same-sex marriage should be legal, according to Gallup, and a bipartisan bill codifying these protection­s easily passed the House, with support from 47 Republican­s. So it’s disappoint­ing the Respect for Marriage Act is facing inexplicab­le pushback in the Senate. We urge conscienti­ous Republican senators to work across the aisle to pass a measure that is popular, common-sense and, above all, moral.

In July, after nearly one-quarter of the House GOP caucus joined with Democrats to pass the act, many observers hoped it would herald a rare bipartisan breakthrou­gh on LGBTQ rights. The Senate version of the bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D- Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-wis.), Susan Collins (R-maine) and Rob Portman (R- Ohio), was also backed by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-alaska) did not publicly commit to the legislatio­n, but she indicated support for samesex marriage.

Unfortunat­ely, the early momentum could be fading, with no other GOP senators coming out in support of the bill. Worryingly, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-wis.) — who in July said he saw “no reason to oppose it” — seems to have changed his position, telling constituen­ts he considered the matter settled law and would need to look at amendments.

The act, which is currently less than 500 words, is fairly anodyne: It would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It would also require state government­s to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. The legislatio­n was written to offer the same protection­s to interracia­l marriage.

Though versions of the bill had been introduced previously, it became a priority after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer. The court’s willingnes­s to reverse years of precedent raised fears it could also strike down Obergefell v. Hodges, the 5- 4 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Heightenin­g that worry was Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, which specifical­ly took aim at Obergefell.

The Respect for Marriage Act would enshrine a right that 55 percent of Republican­s support. Yet many GOP senators have been reluctant to endorse it or have rejected it outright. Some have argued it is unnecessar­y, even though it would provide millions of LGBTQ Americans with clarity and relief going forward. Others cite unjustifie­d concerns that the bill would allow for polygamous marriages or infringe on religious liberties.

The bill’s sponsors are working on amendments to clarify its scope. The suggested tweaks — which include specifying that marriage is between two people and making clear the measure does not undermine conscience or religious liberty protection­s — would do no harm. If Republican­s are sincere about their concerns, these modificati­ons should reassure them — and leave no room for further excuses.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he intends to hold a floor vote on the bill “in the coming weeks.” He also indicated Democrats would prefer to vote on it as a stand-alone measure, rather than inserting it into must-pass vehicles. This appears to be the right approach for now, politicall­y and strategica­lly: GOP senators seem to have more appetite to support the bill on its own, and the vote would force them to go on the record with — and defend — their position on marriage equality.

Let’s hope a filibuster-proof majority of senators does the right thing and votes to protect Americans’ right to marry whom they love.

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