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.