Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, represents Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate. Susan Collins, a Republican, represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.
But Congress has not enshrined marriage equality for same-sex and interracial marriages into law. That is why we are working to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, bipartisan legislation that is another step forward in the United States to prevent discrimination, promote equality and protect the rights of all Americans.
Individuals in same-sex and interracial marriages need, and should have, the confidence that their marriages are legal. These loving couples should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms of every other marriage. The American people overwhelmingly agree.
Over the past 30 years, Americans have grown more supportive of marriage equality. In 1996, less than one-third of Americans — a mere 27 percent — supported same-sex marriages. A quarter-century later, in 2022, more than 70 percent of Americans support marriage equality, including a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
We all have family, friends, co-workers or neighbors who are in these marriages. These partnerships deserve fairness and the recognition, stability and rights of marriage. They are an accepted part of American life.
While a wedding ceremony and party are rites of passage that everyone should be able to enjoy if they wish, a legally binding marriage comes with another set of amazing rights and responsibilities. Married Americans are afforded tax benefits, often paying a lower rate. Married couples are able to receive earned benefits for spouses, such as Social Security, Medicare, disability and those from the armed services. Those who are legally married are able to visit their spouses when they are ill, while others are often not and are considered strangers under the law. In a dire circumstance when a spouse is incapacitated and unable to make their own medical decisions, their better half has the right and responsibility to make those tough decisions for them, as it should be.
The Respect for Marriage Act is a simple, straightforward measure, only four pages in length — it is shorter than this op-ed. The bipartisan legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that allowed states and the federal government to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other states. The Respect for Marriage Act would simply require the federal government to recognize a marriage if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. It would guarantee legal marriages are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity or national origin. This legislation has earned bipartisan support in Congress because it grants same-sex and interracial couples the certainty that they will continue to enjoy the same equal treatment under federal law as all other married couples.
Despite being fewer than 500 words, the Respect for Marriage Act has been misunderstood, leading to false assertions and mischaracterizations of its scope. This legislation would not, in fact, legalize or recognize polygamous relationships or marriages. Polygamous marriages are already illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and this bill would not authorize or recognize them.
Moreover, religious liberty is a founding tenet of our republic, and the Respect for Marriage Act honors that principle. Our bipartisan legislation leaves intact religious liberties and protections afforded to individuals and organizations under federal law. We recognize that some might need more clarity on this point, and that is why we have worked together with our Senate colleagues to develop clarifying language to the legislation that makes it clear what the Respect for Marriage Act would not do — it will not take away or alter any religious liberty or conscience protections.
The House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act with strong bipartisan support, and now it is a worthy use of the Senate’s time to stand together, and with the American people, in support of marriage equality.
We have worked across party lines to bring the Senate together and build support for the Respect for Marriage Act because we should be able to agree that same-sex and interracial couples, regardless of where they live, both need and deserve the assurance that their marriage will be recognized by the federal government and that they will continue to enjoy freedoms, rights and responsibilities that come with all other marriages.
It is time for the Senate to get the job done and pass this bill to protect marriage equality and ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally under the law.