Respect Equality

House to vote on Respect for Marriage Act in response to Clarence Thomas opinion

“As this Court may take aim at other fundamental rights, we cannot sit idly by as the hard-earned gains of the Equality movement are systematically eroded,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors, said Monday.

Story at a glance


  • Legislation introduced Monday would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and bolster protections for married same-sex and interracial couples nationwide.

  • The House is set to vote on the measure this week.

  • Lawmakers said the bill’s introduction is a direct response to an opinion authored by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that signaled marriage equality could be at risk.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and require federal recognition for same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide.

The measure’s introduction comes in response to an opinion by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last month following the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion. 

Thomas wrote that the court’s “substantive due process precedents” set in cases like Obergefell v. Hodges — which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states — should be revisited, creating widespread uncertainty and panic among same-sex married couples over whether their unions will continue to be recognized.

The Respect for Marriage Act, introduced Monday by top House and Senate Democrats, would repeal DOMA, the 1996 law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The Supreme Court in 2013 ruled that a section of the law preventing the government from recognizing same-sex marriages for the purposes of determining federal benefits was unconstitutional, but the remainder of the law is still technically in place, albeit unenforceable.


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The new legislation would also address a national patchwork of marriage laws by requiring states to legally recognize same-sex and interracial marriages if those marriages are valid in the states in which they were performed.

In more than 30 states, statutes or constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage remain on the books, threatening marriage equality in more than 60 percent of the country should Obergefell be overturned.

The bill is slated for a floor vote this week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Monday.

“LGBTQ Americans and those in interracial marriages deserve to have certainty that they will continue to have their right to equal marriage recognized, no matter where they live, should the Court act on Justice Thomas’ draconian suggestion,” Hoyer said.

“If Justice Thomas’s concurrence teaches anything it’s that we cannot let your guard down or the rights and freedoms that we have come to cherish will vanish into a cloud of radical ideology and dubious legal reasoning,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), one of the bill’s sponsors, said Monday in a statement. “As this Court may take aim at other fundamental rights, we cannot sit idly by as the hard-earned gains of the Equality movement are systematically eroded.”

The Respect for Marriage Act has been introduced in several previous Congresses, beginning with a 2009 bill that was also backed by Nadler.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the measure’s GOP sponsor in the Senate, said the proposed legislation builds on previous victories like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and is “another step to promote equality, prevent discrimination, and protect the rights of all Americans.”

The Respect for Marriage Act is co-led by members of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who despite being with his partner, Randy, for more than 30 years, has only been legally married to him for eight.

“For families like mine, the Respect for Marriage Act is a necessary step to protect our fundamental rights,” Maloney said Monday.