Dearly beloved, we gather here today to celebrate federal protection for same-sex marriage.
Congratulations to every man who has married a man, and to every woman who has married a woman, in Wisconsin and across America. Your bonds of legal and loving matrimony are more secure than ever. And the well-wishers applauding your pursuit of happiness keep growing in numbers and enthusiasm.
All Democrats and 39 Republicans in the House of Representatives — including Reps. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, and Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, to their credit — voted last week for the Respect for Marriage Act. It requires all states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages. All Democrats and 12 Republicans in the Senate supported this breakthrough two weeks ago.
With President Joe Biden’s signature, the Respect for Marriage Act will ensure that nuptials, regardless of the sexual orientation of those exchanging vows, cannot be dissolved by another sudden reversal of high-court precedent.
Justice Clarence Thomas last June needlessly floated the possibility of revisiting the high court’s landmark 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Thomas did so as he and four of his conservative colleagues overturned the constitutional right to legal abortion established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The Supreme Court’s dramatic reversal of what most Americans had thought was settled law prompted U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and others to seek protection of gay marriage, should it suffer a similar attack. That way, even if the court were to overturn its 2015 decision, all states would still be required to recognize wedded couples of the same sex. In an impressive show of leadership, Baldwin — the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate — succeeded in convincing enough of her Republican colleagues to vote “yes” on the Respect for Marriage Act to avoid a filibuster.
More than a half-million married couples of the same sex now can stop worrying about their spousal rights and responsibilities being dissolved. In Wisconsin, the Census Bureau estimates just over 10,000 same-sex couples are married, many with children.
Congratulations to all of them on this milestone in the pursuit of marriage equality.
The broadening political support for same-sex marriage shows just how far and how fast America has come in recognizing love and commitment regardless of sexual orientation.
Besides granting another layer of protection, the Respect for Marriage Act repeals the 1996 law (signed by then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat) that defined marriage as between one man and one woman while allowing states to ban same-sex marriages.
Good riddance to that.
Some advocates worry that state legislatures still could stop same-sex couples from marrying if the high court throws out its landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Under such a scenario, the Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t force states to allow more same-sex marriages within their borders. But it would require them to recognize existing gay marriages and those performed in other states.
The high court appears unlikely to strike down gay marriage, even under solidly conservative rule. And even if it did, the Respect for Marriage Act now adds considerable protection, which is far better than none at all.
Some traditionalists worry their religious rights could be jeopardized. But Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., one of many conservatives to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act last week, rejected that claim.
“To me this is really just standing with the Constitution,” she told the Associated Press. “No one’s religious liberties are affected in any way, shape or form.”
The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board first endorsed gay marriage two decades ago, well ahead of either political party in Wisconsin.
“The campaign for gay marriage has a long way to go,” we wrote on Aug. 10, 2003. “More than changing laws, it involves changing minds. But Wisconsin, led by a Republican governor, passed the nation’s first gay rights law in 1982. We could once again show our nation the right path. The cause awaits courageous political leadership.”
Courage is no longer necessary to support gay couples and their families. The public overwhelmingly favors marriage equality. Fear of losing marriage rights is no longer necessary, either. Thanks to the Respect for Marriage Act, everyone’s wedded matrimonies will be preserved and honored.
— From the Wisconsin State Journal