Providing a reminder that progress is a journey and not a destination, same-sex marriage once again is a source of debate in Congress.
The Respect for Marriage Act is under consideration in the Senate, months after passing the House of Representatives with support from all Democrats and 47 Republicans (Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, voted against it).
The bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and it would require state governments to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The legislation also would codify protections for interracial marriage.
Senators should be quick to support a measure that is, simply, the proper thing to do. The right to make a commitment to the person you love should be regarded as a foundational aspect of a strong society, regardless of gender. But enough senators have expressed doubts about the bill to leave its future in question.
Not long ago, following a 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, it seemed inconceivable that the United States would still be debating the legitimacy of same-sex marriages. That ruling said the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, preventing states from outlawing such marriages. Washington and more than 30 other states already had codified the right to same-sex marriages.
But in the wake of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade this summer, returning the issue of abortion to the states, the need for Congress to set national standards and protect basic rights has become clear. The gist: The fight for rights once believed won requires vigilance, not complacency.
That was made evident by the abortion ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” previous rulings related to same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships and access to contraception. And the official Republican Party platform states that marriage is between one man and one woman, demonstrating a willingness to fight battles they already lost.
Efforts to overturn the right to same-sex marriage are out of touch with basic fairness and with public opinion. According to a Gallup poll, more than 70 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, and that number continues to grow. As The Columbian wrote editorially in 2012, the debate “decades from now will be no debate at all. … Future generations will wonder what all the fuss was about.”
Yet several Republican senators are fussing over a rather innocuous bill. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has claimed the legislation is an attempt by Democrats to “create a divisive issue.” Others disingenuously suggest the legislation would allow for polygamous marriages or infringe on religious liberties — concerns that can be addressed with amendments.
The bill is expected to reach the floor of the Senate in the coming weeks, and lawmakers should support it. Providing clarity and certainty for same-sex couples would be a large step toward equality. It also would preempt the fractious situation now seen in abortion rights — with states adopting widely different laws — should the Supreme Court eventually overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.
Not long ago, the issue of same-sex marriage appeared to be decided. But the need to defend civil rights has no finish line.