It was a historic day in the fight for marriage equality when the Respect for Marriage Act garnered bipartisan support and passed in the House of Representatives. With the bill making its way to President Biden’s desk, leading religious liberty scholars whose expertise influenced the legislation, including Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Illinois College of Law and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, have been invited to attend the signing ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, December 13.
Why the sudden push to codify marriage equality into law, given the constitutional protection already afforded to same-sex couples by the 2015 Supreme Court case decision in Obergefell v. Hodges?
“Same-sex couples feared for the recognition and status of their marriages after the US Supreme Court decision this summer overturning Roe v. Wade, given the concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas,” said Wilson.
“The Respect for Marriage Act puts those fears to rest and gives these families security. At the same time, this law affirms that the beliefs of many in traditional marriage will be respected in the public square,” she said.
The Respect for Marriage Act requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and federally recognizes these marriages. The law also repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, and importantly, ensures that nonprofit religious groups are not required to help perform same-sex marriages, a key provision in the push to gain Republican support.
“The legislation uses the template of protections that our scholars group developed in 9 states and the District of Columbia, which embraced same-sex marriage in legislation before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell,” said Wilson.
The contributions of Wilson and her colleagues Douglas Laycock (University of Virginia), Thomas Berg (University of St. Thomas), and Carl Esbeck (University of Missouri) proved to be quite influential, as a co-authored letter by the law professors to Senators Collins and Baldwin urging Republican support was quoted from and cited on numerous occasions during the Senate floor debate.
In addition to securing bipartisan support, the Respect for Marriage Act has also been endorsed by religious groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For Wilson, the invitation to witness the bill being signed into law is a profound honor.
“At a time when we seem very fractured and polarized as a nation, this bill signing is proof that Congress can come together and affirm the dignity of all persons in the same law. We can in fact bridge differences even on questions that go to the core of who we are, what we believe and who we love.”