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What rights does the Respect for Marriage Act protect?

(NEXSTAR) — On Tuesday evening, the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that aims to protect same-sex marriages in the U.S. on the federal level. Though the act does not completely protect rights granted by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex unions, it does protect some, should that decision be overturned.

Getting federal protection on the books gained further prioritization after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year. While abortion rights under Roe were considered by many to be settled via precedent, the overturn decision (Dobbs V. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization) added fuel to codify Obergefell — in addition to Justice Clarence Thomas calling Obergefell “demonstrably erroneous” in his Dobbs opinion.

Though the Respect for Marriage Act as passed does not codify Obergefell, it does:

  • Protect existing same-sex marriages, even if Obergefell is overturned
  • Ensure that all states must recognize same-sex marriages as long as they were performed in a state where same-sex marriage was legal at the time. The marriage would have to be recognized as valid even if new same-sex marriages are banned in that state
  • Repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as “DOMA.” This controversial 1996 legislation federally defined marriage as only between a man and a woman
  • Protect interracial marriages as valid in all states, even if Loving v. Virginia, which overturned bans on interracial unions, were to go the same way as Roe

The Respect for Marriage Act does not:

  • Force states to issue same-sex marriage licenses if Obergefell is overturned
  • Force states to recognize polyamorous marriages (more than two partners)
  • Force nonprofit/religious organizations to provide services to or for same-sex ceremonies

The U.S. Senate passed the bill Tuesday evening in a 61-36 vote. Twelve Republican senators voted along with Democrats to wrack up the 60 votes needed for approval. The Respect for Marriage Act now returns to the U.S. House of Representatives for a second time. The legislation was previously approved by the House but the additions/clarifications around religious organizations and polyamory mean the House must now re-approve it.

The House vote is expected to come next week. If approved, the legislation would move to Pres. Joe Biden’s desk for a signature, which is expected.

“With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Pres. Biden said in a statement Tuesday.

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