Same-Sex and Interracial Marriages Are Officially Protected Under U.S. Law: ‘Love Is Love’

Update Dec. 14 at 9:05 a.m. PT: President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law on Tuesday.

“Love is love. Right is right. Justice is justice. … Marriage is a simple proposition. Who do you love? And will you be loyal to that person you love?” the president asked from the South Lawn. “It’s not more complicated than that.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 29, 2022. Baldwin was the first openly LGBTQ member in the U.S. Senate. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

On Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which protects same-sex and interracial marriages. In a statement, President Biden said the vote reaffirmed “a fundamental truth: Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love.”

Although the RFMA does not explicitly codify the United States Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that all same-sex couples are guaranteed the right to marry, it requires states to recognize all marriages that are performed legally, including in other states. In this capacity, the RFMA repeals President Bill Clinton’s 1996 notorious Defense of Marriage Act, which said states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed legally in other states.

The RFMA guarantees that valid marriages between two people, including same-sex and interracial couples, are honored under federal law, and requires states to recognize the legality of marriage regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

The RFMA needed just 60 votes—including 10 Republican votes—to break a filibuster and pass. In the end, RFMA, which was led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), passed by a vote of 61 to 36, with 12 Republicans voting with their Democratic colleagues:

  • Roy Blunt (Mo.)
  • Richard M. Burr and Tillis (N.C.)
  • Shelley Moore Capito (W. Va.)
  • Collins
  • Joni Ernst (Iowa)
  • Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.)
  • Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (Alaska)
  • Portman
  • Mitt Romney (Utah)
  • Todd Young (Ind.)

The RFMA now returns to the House for a vote, in which it is expected to pass, given its broad bipartisan support in July, when 47 House Republicans joined Democrats in favor of the measure. It is likely that the House will pass the bill before the end of the year, and perhaps as soon as next week, before the majority in the chamber shifts to Republicans in January. If passed by the House, the RFMA will move to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The White House has already publicly declared its support of the passage of the RFMA. 

Thirty-six Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted against the bill—standing in stark contrast to the rest of the United States: 71 percent of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage. Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has historically championed strong anti-LGBTQ sentiment, released a statement in support of the RFMA. (The names of those senators are listed below.)

The RFMA was introduced in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down decades of precedent and ruled that the right to abortion is not constitutionally protected. In his concurring opinion, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas revealed that he would go further than the majority’s decision:

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is demonstrably erroneous, we have a duty to correct the error established in those precedents.”

Here, Justice Thomas suggested that the Court should “reconsider” its past decisions, which protected rights to contraception access (Griswold v. Connecticut), same-sex relationships (Lawrence v. Texas) and same-sex marriages (Obergell v. Hodges). In response, Democratic lawmakers have been eager to set further federal protections in place for LGBTQ and interracial married couples. Biden assured the public on Tuesday that the RFMA “will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled.” 

The Senate’s passage of the RFMA serves as an important victory for Democrats and a necessary safeguard for those who fear the Court’s conservative majority will continue to attack basic human rights in the future.

The 36 senators who voted against enshrining marriage equality, all of whom are Republicans:

  • John Barrasso
  • Marsha Blackburn
  • John Boozman
  • Mike Braun
  • Bill Cassidy
  • John Cornyn
  • Tom Cotton
  • Kevin Cramer
  • Mike Crapo
  • Ted Cruz
  • Steve Daines
  • Deb Fischer
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Chuck Grassley
  • Bill Hagerty
  • Josh Hawley
  • John Hoeven
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith
  • Jim Inhofe
  • Ron Johnson
  • John Neely Kennedy
  • James Lankford
  • Mike Lee
  • Roger Marshall
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Jerry Moran
  • Rand Paul
  • Jim Risch
  • Mike Rounds
  • Marco Rubio
  • Rick Scott
  • Tim Scott
  • Richard Shelby
  • John Thune
  • Tommy Tuberville
  • Roger Wicker

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Clio Morrison is an editorial intern with Ms. Magazine. She is a senior at Cornell University, double majoring in Government and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies and double minoring in Law & Society and English. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights through the power of writing.