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Here's what the Respect for Marriage Act does -- and doesn't do

The Respect for Marriage Act is considered a failsafe bill that would go into effect if the Supreme Court rescinds the right to same-sex marriage.

DENVER — The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation Tuesday to protect same-sex marriages, a measure of relief for the hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples who have married since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

For Kaylin and Kimala Gray, the news of the Senate passing the Respect for Marriage Act was a sigh of relief. 

"That felt really validating, and it was much more emotional than I could have anticipated," Kimala said Wednesday. 

She and her wife have been married for nearly 20 years. They initially got married in Canada, but their marriage was not recognized in the United States until 2015. 

The bill, which would ensure that same-sex and interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law, was approved 61-36, including support from 12 Republicans. The legislation now moves to the House for a final vote.

President Joe Biden said he will sign the bill “promptly and proudly” if it is passed by the House. 

The act is considered a failsafe bill that would go into effect if the Supreme Court rescinds the right to same-sex marriage.

Sara Chatfield, an Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Denver, spoke to 9NEWS about the caveats of the bill.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.) 

9NEWS: What are some of the stipulations of the Respect for Marriage Act?

Chatfield: This law does not actually require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and currently under the SCOTUS ruling that actually is required. So this law requires less than what our current state of the law is in the United States.

If you were to be married in a state, let’s say, like Colorado, and then you travel to or move to another state that did not itself issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, that state would be required to recognize your Colorado marriage license and provide that couple with all the benefits of an opposite-sex couple that was married in that state. 

And furthermore, the federal government would recognize Colorado’s marriage license and provide all the federal benefits that come along with being married.

To be clear, this is actually not changing anything about current law right now. This is in case the Supreme Court in the future were to overturn the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Then this would go into place. But for right now, this provision in the law actually doesn’t change anything. All states will still be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Are there some stipulations when it comes to religious entities as well?

Chatfield: This does include an exemption on religious liberty, and it specifically applies to religious organizations and religious nonprofits. I actually think this is not a huge change to the law.

So this does not apply to people who are in non-religious commercial businesses. For example, people in Colorado are probably familiar with the Masterpiece Cake Shop case that went to the Supreme Court. 

This right now just really applies to religious organizations. It’s already the case that the Catholic church, for example, is not required to conduct marriages that aren’t religiously valid within that religion. You’re not required to marry people who aren’t Catholic. They’re not required to marry same-sex couples. All religions get to decide what types of marriages they’re going to conduct within their own church.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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