The Respect for Marriage Act Seeks to Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act

By Madison Williams

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The Respect for Marriage Act (“RFMA”) was passed in the House of Representatives on September 19th, 2022.[1]  The Bill is currently awaiting vote in the Senate.[2] If adopted, the RFMA will repeal and replace provisions that were established by the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).[3]

The DOMA was a federal law passed by the 104th United States Congress in 1996, which intended to define the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.[4] This allowed states to not recognize same-sex marriages if they were performed under another state’s law.[5] A major provision of the DOMA was that a nonbiological parent could not have a legal relationship with a child of the biological parent in a same-sex couple.[6] Additionally, same-sex couples could not take medical leave to care for their partners or nonbiological children. The DOMA also did not permit same-sex couples to adopt children or petition for custody, visitation rights, or child support. Some sections of this law were ruled unconstitutional, such as the definition of marriage as only between man and woman, and the state’s ability to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. These declarations did not in themselves repeal DOMA.[7]

Supporters of the DOMA believed that same-sex marriage threatened procreation and promoted incestuous relationships and polygamous marriage.[8] Alternatively, opponents dislike DOMA’s marriage definition and find the definition discriminatory.[9]

The RFMA will replace and repeal the provisions that allow states not to recognize same-sex marriages that occurred in other states.[10] If passed, the RFMA would officially repeal the DOMA and require the government to recognize and protect interracial and same-sex marriages.[11] The bill includes that no person acting under state law may deny any act, record, or judicial proceeding of another state pertaining to a marriage on the basis of the sex, race, ethnicity, or nationality of those individuals, or any rights arising from such a marriage.[12] The act gives any person who is harmed by a violation of this, the ability to bring a civil action in the appropriate U.S district court for declaratory and injunctive relief.[13]

The Respect for Marriage Act requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and pass in the Senate.[14] Currently, all 50 democratic senators are expected to vote in favor of the bill.[15] Republicans seek clarification in the terminology and language of the bill and worry about threats to religious freedom, free speech, and parental rights.[16] Additional time has been requested to include language protecting religious liberty, in hopes to secure more votes from the republican members of congress. [17] Many are advocating to delay the vote until after the midterm election in November, but others insist the act be brought to vote as soon as possible.[18] Those in favor of voting as soon as possible believe there is an urgent need to end the debate surrounding marriage equality.[19] Regardless of the outcome, this vote will determine the future for same-sex and interracial marriages throughout the United States. 


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