Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
The House of Representatives moved to codify marriage equality on Tuesday by passing the Respect for Marriage Act with surprising bipartisan support. The 267 to 157 vote included 47 Republicans who agreed that the right to same-sex marriage should be enshrined in federal law, after Justice Clarence Thomas suggested previous cases ensuring marriage equality, same-sex relationships and contraception should be reconsidered in light of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
The bill comes at a critical time when so many hard-earned rights and protections are under threat. LGBTQ+ families, including mine, have been dusting off our living wills and seeking legal advice to ensure we are as protected as we can possibly be in the event that our marriages are dissolved.
Of course, the fact that our rights are up for debate at all is incredibly frustrating at best and terrifying at worst.
This weighs heavily on me as my family is preparing to travel to Bermuda this week. I have been anxiously reading up on the British territory’s fight for same-sex marriage, which has been legalized and overturned twice in the span of five years. Earlier this year, a London tribunal ended the lengthy legal battle by ruling that a Bermuda law banning same-sex marriage is constitutional.
The last time I went to Bermuda with my then-girlfriend more than a decade ago, marriage wasn’t an option there or in my home state of New York. A lot has changed since then; my wife and I are now legally married and we have a child. So much rides on our legal protections, and what’s happened in Bermuda really illustrates what’s at stake.
“Everyone thought that Roe v. Wade was unchangeable,” Rod Attride-Stirling, the lawyer who represented Bermuda’s LGBTQ plaintiffs in the marriage equality case earlier this year, told Vice. “If Trump’s court can change Roe v. Wade, they can change anything and everything. Anyone who thinks that Obergefell is unchangeable—well, sorry to disappoint you.”
As I gather our family’s documents to ensure we are protected in the event something happens while we’re traveling, I can’t help but wonder if this is how I’m going to have to live my life should the Supreme Court overturn marriage equality in the US. Will we need to carry our adoption papers when we go to the grocery store? Our living wills when we go to see the Grand Canyon? Will we have to go back to filing separate state and federal taxes, forced by the legal system to deny the existence of our relationship in order to complete our required paperwork?
What’s more, how will our child be treated as the kid of two moms in a country that is dismantling the careful framework we’ve built to support the changing landscape and dynamics of what it means to love, to grow a family, to support one another? Will our family be turned away, torn apart, bullied or worse? If those in charge are allowed to pick on us, to treat us as less than, what message does that send to my child’s classmates? My bosses? To strangers we pass on the street? What might a future look like where our family is no longer recognized?
Enshrining same-sex marriage in federal law would blunt the whiplash we’ve already been subjected to by activist judges on the Supreme Court.
But it’s not yet clear whether the Senate will take up the vote. Ten Republicans will need to support the bill in order to stave off a filibuster. Color me optimistic, but based on the showing in the House, it may just be possible. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he intends to bring it to the floor, although it’s still unclear whether Republicans will allow the measure to proceed. But Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that holding a vote on this issue sends an “important message,” and that it’s “obvious” Republican views have changed over time. “I think this is an issue that many Americans, regardless of political affiliation, feel has been resolved,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.
It’s worth noting that the marriage equality bill garnered more bipartisan support in the House than the recent gun reform bill, which drew the support of 14 Republicans in the House (along with 15 in the Senate), and the infrastructure bill, which was backed by 13 House Republicans (and 19 in the Senate).
Of course, some members of Congress have voiced their opposition more adamantly in recent weeks. Sen. Marco Rubio called the marriage equality bill “a stupid waste of time,” while Sen. Ted Cruz said the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015 “clearly wrong.”
But passing the marriage equality bill so that families like mine are safe from being used as pawns for right-wing rhetoric is without a doubt the right thing to do, and President Joe Biden, who as vice president was the highest-ranking Democrat to endorse same-sex marriage back in 2012, is surely ready to sign it into law.
Reassurances from the other Supreme Court justices that marriage equality isn’t automatically on the chopping block does nothing to assuage our very real fears that it could be overturned, just as Roe was. New lawsuits could make their way up to the highest court, and leaders like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are already pushing their anti-trans agenda. The Texas Republican party, in fact, already adopted a platform that is incredibly draconian and damaging to the LGBTQ+ community.
Some reproductive rights advocates have long criticized Roe v. Wade, saying another path to legalizing abortion in the United States would have made it more difficult to undo. At the time the case made its way to the Supreme Court in the early 1970s, a few states had passed laws to make abortion more accessible. Some have argued that the issue should have come to a head in Congress with a vote to make the right to abortion a federal law.
Marriage equality followed a similar progression some four decades later. More and more states were passing laws to legalize same-sex marriage, and rather than rely on the Supreme Court, some argued we should have waited for the support for marriage equality to reach a critical mass so it could be codified by Congress.
But there’s no going back, and our chance to secure marriage equality is now here. Some 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage, as do 55% of Republicans, according to a Gallup poll in June marking the highest levels of support since it started tracking the question in 1996.
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LGBTQ+ people aren’t a wedge issue or a hypothetical. We’re human beings with jobs and families, hopes and dreams. We have children who are watching. We shouldn’t have to fear that our hard-earned and widely-accepted rights will be pulled out from under us in a cruel game of politicking and the attempted wholesale demolition of the separation of church and state.
Marriage equality should be settled law. Let’s confirm that with a Senate vote and a signature from the President. We have not a moment to waste.