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Respect for Marriage Act Is Law, But the Fight Is Not Over

By |2022-12-16T15:55:15-05:00December 16th, 2022|Opinions|
By Brian Femminella | Washington Blade
Courtesy of the National LGBT Media AssociationThe Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) was signed into law by President Biden this week. It repeals the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples, federally protecting marriage equality across the country. We were first introduced to an iteration of this bill back in the 114th Congress, and nearly eight years later and after months of negotiations a new version of the bill has survived both the House and Senate.

U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) released a joint statement in support of same-sex couples – specifically targeting discrimination against LGBTQ folks who have faced decades of hatred because of who they love (without previous federal protections). On the House side, we saw Speaker Pelosi standing with both her Democratic and Republican colleagues to finish this fight for equality – for now. It is a rare sight to see the two parties, in both chambers, come together and agree on the importance of protecting human rights for our community, something that those who are no longer with us worked their entire lives to witness.

In last month’s midterm elections, Gen Z voters took their voices from social media to the voting booths – where we saw the second highest influx of youth voter turnout across the country in the last 30 years according to NPR. The common misconception about young people is that we are too “addicted” to technology and that jades us from reality, when really our generation is the most plugged in. Gen Z activists use their social media accounts to bring people together and create conversations, but that does not mean that our only source of information comes from TikTok. The election reminded us that regardless of political affiliation, youth voters will continue to show up and vote when it comes to issues that our generation feels are common sense, should be non-partisan, and protected.

This idea that young people are “woke” and “brainwashed,” is merely just the fear of those who are afraid of long-overdue changes to our policies — especially those that directly affect human rights. Seventy-one percent of Americans have shared that they support marriage equality, and that number is even higher in the millennial and Gen Z communities according to Gallup. As support continues to grow for human rights issues, we must embrace bipartisan efforts to increase federal protections for overlooked communities as a whole.

This year has seen concurring opinions from Justice Clarence Thomas regarding a possible rollback of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans and more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills surfacing across the country according to Politico. Young voters on both sides of the aisle were not taking a chance in allowing those who overwhelmingly disapprove of human rights protections to declare victory. These constant threats have amplified activists to pressure policymakers into working together and creating bipartisan legislation for basic human rights protections, like the RFMA.

If this election showed us one thing, it’s that every single vote matters. Certain elections were decided by only a handful of votes, and some are still being counted. When we think of who we want to elect, it’s imperative that we remind ourselves that those who are opposed to bipartisan efforts to support equality and basic freedoms have no place in our government.

Our voices need to stay loud and we need to keep applying pressure. Passing the RFMA will now provide protection for millions of families — yet we can still do better.

While enacting the Respect for Marriage Act is a step in the right direction, it is not the answer to all of our problems. We still need to prepare for the Supreme Court’s potential overturning of Obergefell, which gave the fundamental right to marry same-sex couples. If we lay out the history of the Senate, it has quite a rocky track record and has stood in the way of progress.

Aside from this success, today, we are awaiting to see how another LGBTQ+ rights issue pans out in the Supreme Court. A web designer wants to limit her services to heterosexual couples, yet a state law prohibits this discrimination in businesses open to the public in Colorado. To our community, this is another case in which our rights are being questioned at the highest levels of government.

Bipartisan support for legislation that further advances equality is the first step, but the fight is nowhere near over. Politicians need to remember that there are people behind the policies that they implement — something Gen Z will not let them forget.

We fought for marriage equality, and now marrying who we love is yet again at risk. We must refuse to step back, after so much progress. It is our duty, as the LGBTQ+ community, to stay loud and push back.

Brian Femminella is an LGBTQ+ activist and entrepreneur. He is an outspoken voice in the queer community, including his work in the federal government. 

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