President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) into law Tuesday during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.
“Today America takes a final step toward equality, for liberty and justice, not just for some, but for everyone,” he began, “toward creating a nation where decency, dignity, and love are recognized, honored, and protected.”
The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.
In his remarks, Biden, a Catholic, noted that he had expressed support for same-sex marriage during a 2012 Meet the Press interview, even before President Barack Obama did.
“Marriage is a simple proposition: Who do you love? And will you be loyal with that person you love?” he said Tuesday. “It’s not more complicated than that.”
He called the legislation a “blow against hate in all its forms.”
“That’s why this law matters to every single American, no matter who you are or who you love. This shouldn’t be about conservative or liberal, red or blue,” he said. “No, this is about realizing the promise of the Declaration of Independence, a promise rooted in a sacred and a secular belief. A promise that we’re all created equal.”
He added: “It’s about being true to the best of the soul of America.”
Biden’s signature comes after the U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-169 to pass the RFMA on Dec. 8. He signed the bill following musical performances by several artists, including Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith.
Vice President Kamala Harris; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York; and Gina and Heidi Norton-Smith — plaintiffs in a case that led Massachusetts to legalize same-sex marriage — also delivered remarks.
Pelosi called the day a “glorious moment of triumph for love of freedom and dignity for all.” Schumer, who said he was wearing the same purple tie that he sported on the day of his daughter’s wedding to another woman, called it personal.
“Praise God we succeeded,” he said of the bill passing Congress.
While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states.
During a press conference Monday, EWTN correspondent Owen Jensen asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about Biden’s response to religious organizations that fear they will be targeted or discriminated against by the government for supporting traditional marriage.
The “Respect for Marriage Act” will be signed into law tomorrow by President Biden. Opponents fear it will be used to discriminate against those who believe in traditional marriage. @EWTNNewsNightly White House correspondent @owentjensen asked about it in the briefing room. pic.twitter.com/jDvOymKbvr
— EWTN News Nightly (@EWTNNewsNightly) December 12, 2022
“When you look at this piece of legislation that has been passed, it actually addresses also the question that you’re asking and takes that into account,” Jean-Pierre said. “Tomorrow is going to be a really important day for many Americans, millions of Americans across the country.”
In its text, the RFMA states that it protects “religious liberty and conscience.”
“Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or federal law,” it reads.
It adds: “Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, nonprofit religious organizations … shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”
In a November letter to Congress, the U.S. Catholic bishops stated that the bill does not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.
“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester reads.
“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasize. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”
A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”
Before the final House vote, Democrats blocked an amendment offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.
During her remarks Tuesday, Harris condemned the Dobbs ruling.
“The Dobbs decision reminds us that fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right [to] marry who you love, the right to access contraception, and the right to make decision[s] about your own body,” she said.
DOMA, which the law repeals, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.