The Respect for Marriage Act Jeopardizes LGBTQ Rights

Ella Sharrers, Copy Editor

When Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that protects same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, was passed in 2015, many queer people thought the fight for legal equality was over. However, we are still far from the end. From Ron Desantis’ homophobic “Don’t Say Gay” bill to many states beginning to prohibit gender affirming healthcare for transgender folks, there is a new bill in question that could potentially threaten the right to same-sex marriage: this time, called the “Respect for Marriage” act. 

The title of this bill sounds rather nice, does it not? Respecting all forms of marriage. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. According to Axios, the “Respect for Marriage” Act does not “Require all 50 states to allow same-sex marriage as is held under the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.” Passing one bill to then overturn another is counterintuitive. The “Respect for Marriage” Act is supposed to protect marriages regardless of identity. When I first heard of this bill, I was slightly confused about what it was really protecting, especially considering that Obergefell v. Hodges is already established. As written by NPR, “But even when [the bill] is signed, the legality of same-sex marriage will still rest on the the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which found that same-sex marriage is constitutionally protected. If the Court were to overturn Obergefell, the legality of same-sex marriages would revert to state law — and the majority of states would prohibit it. The “Respect for Marriage” Act would not change that, but it requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and federally recognizes these marriages.” If the “Respect for Marriage” Act is enacted and Obergefell is overturned, LGBTQ people would once again only be allowed marriage in select states. In fact, as seen in a map provided in the NPR article, only eighteen states would undoubtedly allow same-sex marriage. The overturning of Obergefell v. Hodges would be utterly ridiculous. I am tired of seeing my rights in jeopardy solely because of the huge community I belong to. Is it so hard to just be quiet instead of attacking the validity of a group of people just for existing? Obergefell finally reassured the LGBTQ community that we were allowed to love as freely as our straight peers. After Clinton’s “Defense of Marriage” Act (which recognized marriages only between men and women) was signed in 1996, Obergefell was exactly what the queer community needed. I wish I could say that it was that easy, but like anything in politics, it never is. 

While the “Respect for Marriage” Act is impressive, especially since it has managed to unite both Democrat and Republican government officials, it is possible that the signing of this bill could harm way more than help. So, when there is already a constitutional protection of LGBTQ marriage, why is the “Respect for Marriage” Act needed? NPR writes, “The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in the House to shore up marriage rights after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and called the stability of other landmark civil liberties cases into question.” After the United States allowed misogyny to win over allowing people who can get pregnant to make their own decisions, many – including myself – have become worried about what will happen next for other marginalized groups. The chance that LGBTQ marriage could be threatened is terrifying, and I cannot believe that there are still debates over whether or not certain groups of people should be allowed to get married or not. 

The “Respect for Marriage” Act is a complicated topic, one that I have internally debated multiple times as the bill progresses in Congress. Nonetheless, even as a lesbian, I find myself leaning toward the stance that the “Respect for Marriage” Act should not be passed. There are too many questions surrounding the overturning of Obergefell v. Hodges for me to say that I think the act should be signed. While beneficial in some ways, it is also too risky in others, and I believe that maintaining Obergefell is the only way to ensure that LGBTQ people can still be married in any state. As the debate on the validity of same-sex marriage remains, it is essential that the “Respect for Marriage” Act is not passed. In order for the United States to save the democracy this country depends on, debates on LGBTQ marriage must come to an end.