Congress must protect marriage equality

The Seattle Times editorial board (TNS)
A flag waves along the route of the 2022 Chicago Pride Parade. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The proposed federal Respect for Marriage Act would enshrine marriage equality, ensuring the rights of same-sex and interracial couples. The legislation passed the U.S. House earlier this year with a large, bipartisan majority that reflects the will of most Americans. The Senate must now follow through.

In the seven years since the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutionally protected, support for marriage equality has only grown. A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal — a new high and a long way from the 27% who believed as such back in 1996, when pollsters first posed the question.

That level of public backing and monumental shift in attitudes is perhaps why Republican congressional opposition to this bill has steered clear of openly rejecting gay rights, instead calling it a distraction, divisive or unnecessary.

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But while Americans' views have moved forward, the Supreme Court has fallen back. The nightmare stories coming out of states where abortion is now illegal following the court overturning Roe v. Wade provide all the rationale required as to why this legislation is urgently needed.

That Justice Clarence Thomas specifically called out past rulings that protected same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage and contraception access points to a court that may not stop at abortion when rejecting previously settled rights.

The Respect for Marriage Act, barely four pages long, keeps it simple. It would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman — and require that states recognize any marriage between two people, regardless of the "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of those individuals."

The Senate bill's primary sponsors, Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Maine Republican Susan Collins, are working on amendments to address good-faith concerns over religious freedom. They are also clarifying that marriage is between two people after disingenuous right-wing claims that the law would sanction polygamous unions.

The legislation's passage depends on 10 Senate Republicans willing to join the Democratic majority in doing the right thing. GOP Senators should look to the House, where 47 GOP lawmakers — including Washington U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse — supported the bill.

The right to marry whom you love should not be subject to the whims of an out of step conservative court or be left to a patchwork of state regulations. Congress must make the Respect for Marriage Act the law of the land.

— From the Seattle Times editorial board (TNS).