The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the landmark Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), sending the bill enshrining marriage equality into law and protecting the right to same-sex marriage to President Biden for his signature.
The proposal passed the House this summer and cleared the Senate earlier this month before going back to the lower chamber for a second vote.
Here’s what the Respect for Marriage Act would do:
Protect same-sex marriage from a Supreme Court challenge
The RFMA is widely seen as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to overturn the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
In his opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should “reconsider” other existing cases, including a 2003 case that prevented states from outlawing same-sex sexual intercourse and the 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage a constitutional right.
Obergefell is still standing, protecting the right to same-sex marriage nationwide, but Thomas’s comments triggered concern that the conservative majority on the bench could decide to overturn the protections if a relevant case were to make its way to the Supreme Court.
Require all states to recognize valid marriages
If Obergefell were to fall, the reversal could greenlight dozens of same-sex marriage bans still on the books in some states and open the door for other states to enact new bans or stop issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
Though the RFMA wouldn’t have the same power as Obergefell to be able to require all states to allow same-sex marriage and issue same-sex marriage licenses, the bill would require all states, even those that could move toward bans, to recognize valid marriages from states where it’s legal.
The RFMA requirements would apply to all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and all other U.S. territories.
Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act
The RFMA would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that set a strict federal definition for marriage, specifying a union between one man and one woman. It further defined “spouse” as a “person of the opposite sex.”
DOMA also didn’t require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
“Millions of people, including interracial and same-sex couples, have entered into marriages and have enjoyed the rights and privileges associated with marriage… [and] deserve to have the dignity, stability, and ongoing protection that marriage affords to families and children,” the RFMA draft reads.
Protect interracial marriage
Beyond same-sex marriage, the RFMA broadly sets out to defend the right to marriage more broadly, wrapping in protections for interracial marriage.
The bill would bar any state from denying “full faith and credit” of any marriage “on the basis of the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of those individuals.”
Interracial marriage was protected by another landmark civil rights case at the Supreme Court in 1967, Loving v. Virginia — and though it wasn’t specifically flagged by Thomas for reconsideration, other lawmakers have sounded alarms about its similarities to Roe and Obergefell.
Reaffirm religious freedom
Though RFMA would replace DOMA to require federal and state governments to recognize same-sex marriages, it wouldn’t ask that other groups buck religious freedoms to accommodate them.
“Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises. Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect,” reads the RFMA draft.
Churches, mosques, synagogues, religious educational institutions and other religious nonprofits couldn’t be sued if they refuse to “provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges” for conducting or celebrating a same-sex marriage.