President Biden Signs Respect for Marriage Act

Posted by on Jan 17, 2023 in Current Events, Government, Stuff You Should Know

On December 13, 2022, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, a bipartisan bill that protects same-sex and interracial marriages at the federal level. Thousands attended the signing celebration on the South Lawn of the White House. Here, btw takes a closer look at the Respect for Marriage Act, its impact, and its legal importance. 

What Does It Do? 

The Respect for Marriage Act provides federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriages. That means that states are required by federal law to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages, including those performed legally in other states. Couples–regardless of race, gender, or sexual identity–will also be equally entitled to any federal benefits given to married couples (such as Social Security survivor benefits).  

A Long Legislative History 

The path to the Respect for Marriage Act has been a long and bumpy one. In fact, President Biden himself did not always support same-sex marriage. In 1996, then Senator Biden and other senators signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. DOMA also stated that same-sex marriages would not be recognized at the federal level. But in June 2015, the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges overturned that law. The Obergefell ruling requiring that all fifty U.S. states perform and recognize same-sex marriage. , In his written opinion supporting the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (which overturned Roe v. Wade), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated that the Court should reconsider the legal basis for the Obergefell ruling. The Respect for Marriage Act ensures that even if the Supreme Court does overturn Obergefell, same-sex marriage will still be legal. 

An Imperfect Bill 

Many supporters of same-sex marriage, however, are reluctant to celebrate the Respect for Marriage Act as a victory. The bill doesn’t state that same-sex marriage must remain legal in all fifty states. It only says that a same-sex marriage performed in one state must be legally recognized in another. If the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell, each state will be able to decide for itself whether or not it supports same-sex marriage. On the other hand, many other supporters of same-sex marriage are relieved because the Respect for Marriage Act ensures that even if Obergefell is overturned, federal-level protections will still exist. 

Changing Public Opinion 

The law’s signing reflects a shift in public opinion in recent decades. For example, in 2004, only 42 percent of Americans said that they supported same-sex marriage. But today, that number has risen to 68 percent. This includes a rise in Republican support, from 19 percent in 2004 to 43 percent today. That number is significant, because traditionally, the Republican party has been slower to support same-sex marriage. By comparison, Democratic voters support same-sex marriage at a rate of 87 percent today, while 70 percent of independent voters support it today. 

The same is true of interracial marriage. Before the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia in 1967, interracial marriage was outlawed in many places. Only four percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage in 1958. But by 2021, 94 percent of Americans supported it.  

Dig Deeper Use the paragraphs above about changing American public opinion to create an infographic illustrating the country’s growing support for same-sex and interracial marriage.