Humanists Support Respect for Marriage Act

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed into law the Respect for Marriage Act. The law codifies the marriages of same-sex and interracial couples by affording them federal protection, requiring that marriages be recognized in any US state as long as they are legal in the state where the marriage was performed. It also provides that same-sex and interracial couples who marry have the same federal benefits as other married people.

This falls short of requiring states to legally marry same-sex and interracial couples. The legislation also allows some non-profits and churches to claim religious exemptions that would permit them to not support these marriages. So, the Respect for Marriage Act is far from a perfect bill.

Still, the landmark legislation will protect couples if the conservative Supreme Court acts to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges (the 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all states) or Loving v. Virginia (which protected interracial marriage in 1967) in the coming years. The fear of either of these precedents being overturned has been very real since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his Dobbs concurrence, listed Obergefell as a precedent that could be overturned.

When the Dobbs decision was released, the American Humanist Association (AHA) stated, “The reasoning used will further provide a pathway to overturn decisions in important civil rights cases like Obergefell…and Loving…among others.” Although flawed, the Respect for Marriage Act provides a measure of protection and assurance that all couples will continue to enjoy federal protections for their marriages. The AHA applauds this action.

At the signing ceremony, Biden said,

It’s one thing—it’s one thing for the Supreme Court to rule on a case, but it’s another thing entirely for elected representatives of the people to take a vote on the floor of the United States Congress and say loudly and clearly: Love is love. Right is right. Justice is justice. These things are fundamental things that America thinks matter.. Congress is acting because an extreme Supreme Court has stripped away the right important to many Americans that has existed for half a century: the Dobbs decision. The court’s extreme conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade and the right to choose.

When same-sex marriage first became legal across the country, several judges and county clerks refused to perform officiant duties that would honor same-sex couples’ federal right to marry. Despite the obstacles, humanist celebrants continued to provide personalized, nonreligious ceremonies for LGBTQ couples, often for free.

From November 2016 to January 2017, seventy-four humanist celebrants offered free weddings to LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and other marginalized communities that feared they would be negatively affected by a Trump presidency. The initiative aimed to aid individuals threatened by racism, homophobia, and religious discrimination by offering them the comfort and security found through becoming legally connected to the person they love without worrying about financial hindrances.

The Humanist Society has trained and endorsed humanist professionals—celebrants, chaplains, lay leaders, and invocators—since 1939 and became an adjunct of the AHA in 1991. Along with weddings, humanist celebrants help commemorate the welcoming of a child, coming-of-age, gender transitions, memorials, and other significant milestones. They provide meaningful, distinctly personal, and professional humanist ceremonies to recognize the various life passages humanists want to celebrate with our loved ones.