WASHINGTON D.C. (BRPROUD) — On Tuesday night, The U.S. Senate passed an amended version of the Respect for Marriage Act.
The bill codifies some protections for same-sex and interracial marriages into federal law. Both of Louisiana’s Senators voted against the bill citing religious reasons and claiming the legislation is not needed.
Currently, the bill is just a precaution. The Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges created the federal protection of marriage for all, but with Justice Clarence Thomas signaling his interest in overturning it with similar arguments used to overturn Roe v. Wade, many felt the legislation needed to be in place while Democrats held control of Congress.
The bill does not require states to provide same-sex and interracial marriages should Obergefell be overturned. The law would force states to recognize marriages that took place previously or in states where it is legal. So, if the case is overturned and a state outlaws same-sex marriage, the state doesn’t have to recognize any new marriages.
There are also a number of religious exemptions to the law as well. The religious protections that were added through amendment read as follows:
“Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, nonprofit religious organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, nondenominational ministries, interdenominational and ecumenical organizations, mission organizations, faith-based social agencies, religious educational institutions, and nonprofit entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion, and any employee of such an organization, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal under this subsection to provide such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.”
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy felt the religious protections did not go far enough. He claims the bill would have an impact on the tax-exempt status of nonprofits, force small businesses to provide services to LGBTQ couples despite their religious objections, etc. He offered his own amendment that was shot down.
“My amendment would have made necessary improvements to defend religious liberties, but was blocked from receiving a vote,” said Sen. Cassidy. “I could not support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act without protecting Catholic adoption agencies or small business owners from endless lawsuits. The culture wars must end on both sides.”
On the other side of things, Senator John Kennedy said he did not feel the bill was needed as the Supreme Court case still stands. He claims the legislation would allow the president, through an executive order, to use this act to do things that Congress never intended.
“Gay marriage is legal in the U.S. as a result of the Obergefell decision,” said Sen. Kennedy. “There is no indication whatsoever that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to overrule that case. So, what is the purpose of this legislation? It is a ‘solution’ in search of a problem—a problem that doesn’t exist.”
The support for same-sex marriage has grown steadily over the last few decades. According to Gallup, in 1996 only about 27% of Americans supported legalizing gay marriage. Now in 2022, that number is up to 71%.
While the federal protections remain in place as of now, Louisiana faces its own fight to preserve LGBTQ rights.
“When we look at the direct threat it’s very real… but we do look at the Respect for Marriage Act as just a stop along the road to justice,” said SarahJane Guidry, Executive Director of Forum for Equality.
The state’s own version of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill made its way to the legislature in the 2022 regular session. While it did not pass, there were promises it would be making a return next year. There have also been multiple legislative attacks against transgender youth by barring them from playing on school sports teams based on the gender they identify with. Other bills have attempted to block gender-affirming care for children as well, but have not made it far in the process.
“We are seeing the threats from the other side in terms of harming our children already, our LGBTQ youth. We saw that last session and we know that is going to continue this session,” said Guidry.
Forum for Equality is an LGBTQ human rights organization in Louisiana. Guidry said there has been a decades-long push to expand protections for LGBTQ people when it comes to housing. The law does not protect against discrimination in the workplace and housing based on sexual orientation. A bill that would expand housing protections nearly passed out of committee for the first time this year, so Guidry is hopeful the tide is beginning to turn in the legislature.
The Respect for Marriage act heads back to the house before being sent to the president.