Respect for Marriage Act Is a Small Win

Amanda Maltin, Opinions Co-Editor

The Senate passed the Respect For Marriage Act, a piece of legislation designed to protect interracial and same-sex marriage on Nov. 29. 

It is projected to pass in the House as soon as next week, and be signed into law by the new year.  The Respect for Marriage Act was devised in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, which sparked national fear over the decay of civil liberties and privacy laws, and called into question the staying power of the precedent set by Obergefell v. Hodges.  

President Joe Biden exclaimed that the passage of the act “will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled,” calling the legislation a “bipartisan achievement.”  

The Respect for Marriage Act entails a set of safeguards that protect the legal rights of married couples.  For instance, if a same-sex married couple travels to a state where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, that state must still consider their marriage legitimate.  It also guarantees that the federal government will recognize all same-sex marriages if the union is valid in the state where they obtained a marriage license.  

There were a multitude of caveats written in to the bill in order to earn votes from senators who represent religious conservatives; including an exception for religious organizations to not have to recognize same-sex marriages.  It also does not federally mandate same-sex marriage, given that it is the current ‘law of the land’.  It simply recognizes that the majority-conservative Supreme Court could potentially reverse its 2015 precedent, necessitating intervention from the federal government.  

The history of legal recognition of gay marriage in the United States is a tumultuous one, with the tide of public opinion only recently shifting in favor of gay marriage.  Pew Research Center reports that in 2004, 60 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage.  In 2019, that same poll showed that 61 percent of Americans were in favor of gay marriage.  When adjusting for those who oppose gay marriage for “religious reasons,” that number jumps to 79 percent. 

It is great that the federal government is taking action to try to protect the right to gay marriage – particularly under a hostile SCOTUS.  It is also a proper democratic maneuver that helps to reflect the will of the American people.  However, it does not go far enough. 

If the recent email sent out by the Catholic Campus Ministry is any indication, there is still a small (yet vocal) portion of the American public that does not respect the personal fundamental right to marry whomever you choose.  

The Catholic Campus Ministry’s Nov. 14 bulletin featured an anonymous student’s question about dealing with same-sex attraction.  They asked if they “will I still go to hell” for having these feelings, even if they never act on them. 

The Ministry responded, “think of same sex attraction as any temptation or tendency to sin, similar to having sex outside of marriage or cheating on one’s spouse. Acting on feelings toward those of the same sex is the sin of sodomy… which needs to be repented of immediately,” and went on to suggest conversion therapy, and reminded the student that there was a future for them “without grave sin.”

Not only was this a clear indication to the anonymous student of the Ministry’s perspective on gay relationships, but it was also a signal to everyone on Bucknell’s campus that there are places on Bucknell’s campus where members of this community are not safe or welcomed.  

The Respect for Marriage Act is a small step in the right direction, but it simply does not go far enough.  If the Catholic Campus Ministry provides any indication, the bill fails to protect same-sex couples from the very organizations which seek to delegitimize and target them. 

It also reminds the rest of us that we have a continued obligation to advocate for our peers and fellow Americans when it comes to upholding personal liberties, privacy, and freedom.    

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