Last week, House Democrats forced a snap vote on a bill that aims to codify same-sex marriage and more in federal law. The House passed the “Respect for Marriage Act” (RMA) 267-157. Forty-seven Republicans joined the majority.
The bill could come up for a vote in the Senate in the next two weeks. If enough Republican senators join the Democrats to overcome a filibuster, President Biden could sign it into law before the 2022 election.
The RMA seeks to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage in federal law as a legal union of one man and one woman and protected states that sought to do the same.
But this is old news. In Windsor (2013) and Obergefell (2015), the Supreme Court gutted DOMA. In the latter decision, they struck down the federal definition of marriage and forced all states to recognize and facilitate same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is already a legal reality in all 50 states. So, why have Democrats in Congress decided to push this bill? At a time of record-high inflation, an epidemic of fentanyl overdoses, a war in Europe, surging violence in cities, and illegal immigrants pouring across our southern border, why burn precious time to shore up same-sex marriage, which isn’t at risk?
The Democrats’ excuse for this diversion is a comment by Clarence Thomas. In his concurring opinion in Dobbs in June, Justice Thomas suggested that, in the future, the court should revisit its use of “substantive due process” in cases including Obergefell. Some speculate that perhaps a future court could follow Thomas’ thread, overturn the decision and return questions of marriage to the states. The horror.
This logic seems strained. In his majority Dobbs opinion, with which Thomas concurred, Justice Alito insisted that the Dobbs ruling did not implicate Obergefell and other cases that do not involve questions of unborn human life.
Besides, conservatives are not rallying to overturn Obergefell. There are no cases working their way through the courts that could threaten that 2015 decision.
So why the hype about “Obergefell at risk”? The answer, in two words: “political panic.” The Democrats fear an electoral blowout in November. RMA is their attempt to fire up the progressive base and force Republicans in more liberal districts to cast an awkward vote. A vote against the bill could anger certain swing voters. A vote in its favor could dispirit the GOP base.
But RMA does more than just repeal DOMA. For starters, it creates a private right of action. In effect, it deputizes activists to sue anyone who holds that marriage is between one man and a woman and operates “under color of state law.” In the past, the Supreme Court has suggested that acting “under color of state law” might apply to private groups that participate in a joint activity with a state.
So, for example, religious foster care and adoption agencies may be sued if they perform state functions through child placement. Indeed, Philadelphia already tried to ban religious foster care providers from its programs for these reasons. Should RMA pass, it’s not a question of if activists will sue religious groups but how often.
The bill also would provide what are known as “national policy grounds” for the Internal Revenue Services to deny tax-exempt status to nonprofit religious organizations that believe in natural marriage.
It’s no accident that this bill comes amid the administration’s efforts to redefine sex under Title IX and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. It serves to further weaken the recognition of meaningful differences between males and females in federal law.
Moreover, the bill is a Trojan horse for ideas even more radical than same-sex marriage. As written, the bill would require the federal government to recognize polygamy as marriage if even one state legalizes it. This would touch many federal laws and regulations on marriage, from welfare to parental rights.
The nature of marriage did not change after 2015, when the Supreme Court decided to follow the drift of elite opinion rather than follow nature, history, and common sense. Marriage is a social institution ordered toward the bearing and rearing of children. It formalizes a natural truth: that it takes exactly one man and one woman to reproduce. And we know that children flourish best in a stable home with both mom and dad because the two sexes complement each other.
This is why the state has a special interest in marriage and monogamy. The family, headed by a married man and woman, is the most basic unit of society. When it is strong, that strength radiates outward to the body politic. When marriage decays, so does the family and the body politic with it.
The state has no clear interest in romantic feelings, sexual orientations, and the like. These generally fall outside the reach of law and politics. That’s why legal recognition of natural marriage is not and never has been discrimination against single people or against people who identify as gay or lesbian.
Liberals can read polls and scroll through social media. They surely know their views on abortion (up to the moment of birth) and gender (teenagers consenting to their own sterilization) are unpopular. Democrats are trying to get media attention off their ghoulish views and the Biden administration’s manifest failures and onto something that polls more in their favor.
Most people say they favor same-sex marriage. But how many will view it as a make-or-break issue in the next election — especially since same-sex marriage is not even at risk? Some may fall for the Democrats’ fearmongering. But it’s much more likely that people in the GOP base will see this as a gratuitous slap to the face of people of faith. And they’d be right.
The Democrats have set a trap. They hope to catch 10 GOP senators and avoid a filibuster on the bill. The question is whether there are 10 gullible enough to fall for it.