What the Respect for Marriage Act Means for My Queer Family

I’m relieved this bill passed, but I don’t feel any safer or protected than we were last week. I feel like we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Wedding rings on top of rainbow scarf

anastas_/Getty Images

On November 29, 2022, The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) passed in the Senate with a bipartisan vote. This shined a spotlight on how far we, LGBTQIA+ people, have come but still have to go in our fight for equality and protection under the law. I’m relieved this bill passed, but I don’t feel any safer or protected than we were last week. I feel like we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb.

What Does RFMA Mean for LGBTQIA+ People?

Unlike Obergefell v. Hodges, which requires all states to grant requested marriage licenses to same gender couples, RFMA does not require every state to do this. If the 2015 Supreme Court decision is overturned, RFMA rules that a state could support a bill which could ban gay marriage. The bill also allows nonprofit and religious organizations to deny wedding services because of religious beliefs. 

However, RFMA would require states to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. It would also require many people to travel outside of their home state to seek protections. 

This bill feels like a fear fueled reaction to the comments Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made six months ago when he said gay marriage should be reconsidered

In an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) article, James Esseks, the organization’s director of the LGBTQ & HIV Project, wrote, "Justice Thomas urged the court to overturn its rulings establishing a fundamental constitutional right to use contraception, the right of same-sex couples to marry, and a right to form intimate sexual relationships with other consenting adults. With the right to marry potentially at risk, our friends in Congress wanted to do something."

Will RFMA Be Enough Protection for My Family?

The bill forces us to think about what "protection" means for the LGBTQIA+ community. It's not a one-size-fits-all kind of bill. Melissa Connelly and her wife Kimberly live in Cleveland and are parents to a new baby. This bill feels like a win for them. "As a Black lesbian in a multi-racial marriage—my wife is Korean American—with an interracial child, this bill means protection for my family on multiple levels.” Since they are already married, Connelly is relieved that her marriage will still be recognized if Obergefell vs. Hodges falls. However, she notes, "It is a extremely disheartening fact that in 2022, there are 36 Senate members in positions of power that see interracial couples and LGBTQIA+ couples as less than. Our country was built on the concept of freedom, liberty, and the separation of religion and state. It's time for religion to be a personal choice instead of one that's used to deny other people's civil liberties."

As I reflect on the passing of RFMA, I think about the recent progress LGBTQIA+ folks have seen. The Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003; Massachusett's legalization of same-sex marriage in 2004; the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013; and—what was supposed to be the icing on the cake—the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015, all represented long fought wins for LGBTQIA+ people and families.

As a Black, queer woman, who is married to an immigrant, a Sri Lankan American woman, we know what it means to be discriminated against and called the N-word in public with our kids nearby. And we know what it's like to be questioned as parents. One time, I was asked if my daughters were mine at the grocery store. 

We carry the weight of sending our kids out in public, not knowing if they will experience some of the same. For me, this bill kind of feels like that—a mix of being bullied by Justice Thomas and being discriminated against by nonprogressive states and ultimately living in fear because of extreme religious beliefs. 

When my wife and I were married in 2011, we breathed a sigh of relief because our chosen home was in Connecticut, one of the first states to recognize same-sex marriages; it still continues to be one of the best decisions we've made for the safety and protection of our family. 

Four years after our marriage, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision provided our marriage and family with federal protections under the law. For us, that meant our marriage would be recognized when we crossed state lines to visit family, vacation, or take a day trip. It meant that both my name and my wife’s are on our children's birth certificates; we are both recognized as equal parents in our same-sex, Afro-Lankan family. 

The Fight Is Far From Over

As we push ahead, and inch toward full equality with the passing of this bill, we are reminded that we still have a very long way to go.

Errol Anderson, 40, of Atlanta, says, "RFMA is significant in the sense that Justice Thomas, in particular, and other justices have signaled their interest in overturning Obergefell v. Hodges. But it also feels like the very bare minimum that queer and trans people deserve at this moment in history.”

I can remember the day former President Barack Obama posted on Twitter #LoveWins and openly celebrated the passage of gay marriage rights. I felt like a weight was lifted, and the recognition that I and my family are real produced tears of joy. I was pregnant with our twin daughters and was relieved to know my wife and I could be welcomed as a valued couple building a valued family for our nation. 

I also thought about God. I was told how infertile I was. My ability to get pregnant and have twins was supposed to be impossible for someone with my health issues, but I exercised my freedom in prayer with God. Justice Clarence has no idea how much God was with us in the forming of our marriage and family. He, and many like him, are simply unable to see what real love looks like. I have explained all the legalities of why we should be seen as equal but I have yet to share that even my faith and relationship with God pushes me to fight for the sacredness of my marriage and family. 

We saw what happened with abortion rights and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We are watching what happens to voter rights for trans people and gasping as more laws restrict care for trans youth. We see what’s happening to students and teachers with the "Don't Say Gay" bill passed earlier this year in Florida. 

I’m thankful for the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act, but it feels like our community is living in some in-between world, some real-life Stranger Things episode. We celebrate, but our fight goes on for true equality for all.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles