Why Respect for Marriage Act Is a Small Step Forward

U.S. House of Representatives passed RFMA in July to require the U.S. Federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages in the U.S.




The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) was proposed as a way for Congress to respond to U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) justice Clarence Thomas’ public opinion.

Thomas stated, following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, that the court should review the Constitutional right of same-sex marriage, the right to use contraception, and more.

RFMA repeals, or simply aims to replace, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA worked to exclude same-sex marriages from federal recognition of Social Security survivor benefits. This meant that partners in same-sex marriages wouldn’t be allowed to collect their partner’s benefits.

DOMA also said that the Full Faith and Credit Clause doesn’t require states to respect the marriages of same- sex couples performed by other states.

The Full Faith Clause was meant to ensure that all states respect the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.

DOMA was altered in 2013  when SCOTUS removed both previously mentioned portions of the act, explicitly requiring all states to respect inter-state recognition and respect by the federal government.

Jim Obergefell and his husband John Arthur James filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio’s refusal to recognize same sex marriage on death certificates in 2013. The men were married on the tarmac of a Maryland airport in July of 2013 where the union was legal.                                                                                                                                                        Because James had a fatal disease, it was important to the couple that Obergefell would be recognized as James spouse on his death certificate. Obergefell v. Hodges ultimately led to same-sex marriage being protected as a Constitutional right.

“Today is a momentous day in our history. It’s a day when the Supreme Court of the United States lived up to the words inscribed above the front entrance of the courthouse: Equal Justice Under Law,” Obergefell wrote in a 2015 letter published by the White House.

RFMA is a limited approach to protecting same- sex marriage if Obergefell v. Hodges is overturned by SCOTUS in the fact that the act doesn’t require all states to permit same- sex marriages in the first place.

This means if the right to same-sex marriage is ruled unconstitutional, RFMA won’t stop states from refusing to give out same-sex marriage licenses, but will continue to require all states to respect pre-existing marriages on the federal level.

To pass the Senate and be written into law, RFMA needs 10 Republican Senators to vote with all 50 Democratic Senators and meet the 60 vote minimum requirement.

If the bill garners 60 Senators’ support it is put to a vote in which the majority of the nation’s 100 Senators must agree.

Hope for the act is still alive as it had the most support for any pro-LGBTQ+ bill ever
in Congress.

This historic bipartisan support indicates an increase in Republican LGBTQ+ support from last year when the Equality Act, which aimed to include LGBTQ+ people in the Civil Rights Act, only had the support of
three Republicans.

The Senate adjourned in mid-August so the act could be voted on in early September or later when the Senate reconvenes.