Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Bill Heads to Biden's Desk

UPDATE: President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law on December 13 in a large White House ceremony.

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

December 8, 2022

The Respect for Marriage Act is headed to President Biden after the House passed it by a 258-169 margin today. The Senate had passed it earlier with some bipartisan support by a 61-36 vote. This historic measure would provide federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize each other's legal marriages.

It also will formally repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which had denied same-sex couples federal benefits and permitted states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage with its 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. As a result of that holding, same-sex couples lawfully married in any state are entitled to spousal benefits under federal laws. In 2020, the Court further strengthened LGBTQ rights with its ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that employers that fire an individual for being gay or transgender violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Nonetheless, a comment earlier this year by Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs ruling overturning abortion rights triggered Congress to act. Justice Thomas wrote that the Court should reconsider rulings affecting contraceptive rights and same-sex marriage, mentioning Obergefell by name.

President Biden has vowed to sign the new legislation. "The House's bipartisan passage of the Respect for Marriage Act - by a significant margin - will give peace of mind to millions of LGBTQ+ and interracial couples who are now guaranteed the rights and protections to which they and their children are entitled," he said in a statement.

The Supreme Court heard a case earlier this week dealing with the issue ofLGBTQ+ rights and religious liberty. It involves a graphic designer who seeks to start a website business to celebrate weddings but does not want to work with same-sex couples. A decision is expected before the Court ends its current term in June 2023.