Complaints from some progressive Democrats about the much-heralded Respect for Marriage Act are on the rise, as they realize that the legislation often labeled in the press as the “same-sex marriage” bill would not actually require states to recognize same-sex marriages.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lauded the legislation as a “momentous step forward for greater justice for LGBTQ Americans.” But complaints from the far left started surfacing as the Senate passed the bill last week.
Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, who is gay, said in a column that he supports the bill but admitted that the more closely he looks at it, “the more my joy diminishes.”
“What the act does not do is require states to issue marriage licenses in contravention of state law,” he wrote.
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Charlotte Clymer, former press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and LGBTQ activist, put it more sharply in a blog post. “I hate the Senate bill and we need it to pass it,” she said, adding that “it sucks” and “it’s our only real option.”
Democrats in Congress whipped up the bill after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a concurring opinion in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade. There, he said that in light of the decision to let states decide abortion, the court should also “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” including the Obergefell v. Hodges case that took same-sex marriage out of the hands of states and said it is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.
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No other justices joined Thomas. But that opinion became a major campaign issue for Democrats and spurred lawmakers of both parties to write legislation aimed at requiring states to recognize same-sex marriage, in case the Obergefell precedent fell.
But if the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) passes, it would not go so far as to require states to permit same-sex marriages, which is what has some progressives disappointed. Instead, it would require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.
The act would also require states to recognize same-sex marriages in other states for the purpose of distributing benefits, and wouldn’t let them interfere with the federal recognition of those marriages. But otherwise, each state would still be able to define marriage as they see fit, and would not be required to issue licenses or permits for same-sex marriages that take place in their state.
Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, told G3 Box News Digital that the passage of RMA is about “political realism,” and that both sides had to cede some ground in order to turn the language into law. Schultz noted that the bill doesn’t go as far as banning states from making gay-marriage illegal, and includes an amendment by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., aimed at protecting religious liberty.
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“The interest groups on the left I think are begrudgingly admitting that these religious protections had to be in the bill to pass,” Schultz said. “Some of them are saying that’s an affirmative good. Others are saying are saying, ‘Well, I guess this is what you have to do to attract Republicans.’ I’m not saying they feel religious liberty in their soul.”
“I think that this is actually a big political deal,” Schultz added. “I think that legally the RMA is not a huge deal. And I think that’s why people are hyperventilating for no good reason.”
“But I think like politically it’s a very big deal. Because I think it shows that there is a kind of center that wants to get things done on this issue.”
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Shultz says the overturning of Obergefell is a “very unlikely scenario.”