Editorial: Senators, protect marriage equality ASAP

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, people participate in a rally in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, a person waves a rainbow flag at a rally in support of the LGBTQIA+ community at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., in 2021.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

Imagine waking up one day to discover that a handful of judges had decided that the government could invalidate your marriage. Suddenly, the legal structure that holds your family together could be unraveled, creating uncertainty in some of life’s most intimate domains — child custody, estate planning, medical decisions.

No American should have to worry about losing the freedom to marry the person they love. Nor should citizens live in fear that a legal right relied upon to organize their life could be yanked away by conservatives on the Supreme Court. That’s why Congress must pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which cleared the House last month and faces a vote in the Senate as soon as this week.

The bill codifies rights to same-sex and interracial marriage that the Supreme Court declared constitutionally protected years ago. In 2015, in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the court ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry, and in 1967, in Loving vs. Virginia, it struck down bans on interracial marriage.


Losing the right to abortion was once unthinkable. Congress must act to to preempt the court from snatching away more rights through unthinkable decisions.

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These rulings relied on the idea that the constitutional right to liberty is linked with the rights to privacy and autonomy over intimate decisions. But that is the very same legal logic that underpinned the right to abortion for nearly 50 years, which the court jettisoned in June by overturning Roe vs. Wade. So Americans are justified in feeling nervous that other privacy-based constitutional rights may also be at risk.

Even though Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority that the decision to overturn Roe “concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an alarming concurrence saying that he wants the court to reconsider the “demonstrably erroneous decisions” involving rights to contraception, same-sex intimacy and same-sex marriage.

It’s clear that Americans need insurance policies to protect our freedoms from this extreme court bent on rolling back decades of progress. The Respect for Marriage Act is one of those insurance policies because it enshrines marriage equality in federal law and prohibits states from denying the validity of a marriage that took place in another state. The Right to Contraception Act is another insurance policy that Congress should pass to protect Americans’ freedom to use birth control. Congress should have passed the Women’s Health Protection Act months ago to ensure access to abortion would continue even if the court overturned Roe. It’s shameful that it didn’t.

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While Republican opposition has blocked the bills enshrining federal rights to abortion and contraception from advancing in the Senate, the GOP appears open to codifying same-sex marriage. It was encouraging to see that the Respect for Marriage Act passed the House with solid bipartisan support. Some 47 Republicans joined all 220 Democrats in voting for it.

California Republicans were split. Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Corona), Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita), Darrell Issa (R-Bonsall), Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) and David Valadao (R-Hanford) voted in favor of same-sex marriage rights.

Reps. Connie Conway (R-Tulare), Young Kim (R-La Habra), Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) and Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach) voted against protecting those rights.

Five Republican senators have publicly said they will vote for the Respect for Marriage Act. It shouldn’t be hard for a few more GOP fence-sitters to come out on the side of civil rights. Some 71% of Americans say same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law. Senators should show they value families and ensure that all couples — regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation or future Supreme Court decisions — have the right to say, “I do.”