New legislation would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law.
In this June 12, 2021, file photo, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, a person waves a rainbow flag as they participant in a rally in support of the LGBTQ community at Freedom Plaza in Washington. Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

The Respect for Marriage Act should not be necessary. Seven years after the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was protected by the U.S. Constitution, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, further confirmation of this right should not be needed.

But after the court last month overturned the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, it has become clear that writing fundamental rights into law remains important despite decades of court precedent. This is especially true as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision, urged his colleagues to reconsider other rights, such as the right to obtain contraception and the right to marry or have sex with the person of your choosing regardless of gender, that the court previously ruled were protected under the Constitution’s due process clause. Thomas suggested that these court rulings, like its decision in Roe, were “demonstrably erroneous” and that the court has “a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

With this dire warning from a stalwart member of the court’s conservative majority, passing laws to protect rights that most Americans believed were fundamental has now become essential.

So, a group of Democratic members of Congress — along with Republican Sen. Susan Collins — introduced legislation on Monday to protect marriage rights. Called the Respect for Marriage Act, the legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. That law was rendered moot by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling in 2015, but it remains on the books.

The recently introduced Respect for Marriage Act would also require that federal law recognize any marriage that was valid when and where it was performed and require the recognition of marriages performed in other states. Sen. Angus King signed on as a co-sponsor of the act on Friday.

“Maine voters legalized same-sex marriages in our state nearly a decade ago, and since Obergefell, all Americans have had the right to marry the person whom they love,” Collins said in a press release from the House Judiciary Committee announcing the bill.  “During my time in the Senate, I have been proud to support legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, from strengthening hate crime prevention laws, to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ to ensuring workplace equality.  This bill is another step to promote equality, prevent discrimination, and protect the rights of all Americans.”

Since the bill was unveiled, one more Republican — Rob Portman of Ohio — has signed on as a sponsor, and Thom Tilllis of North Carolina said he will probably vote for it. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also a Republican, said she supports marriage equality but needs to review the legislation. Republican Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, said he would not oppose it.

This is still short of the 10 Republicans that would be needed to overcome an expected filibuster. But, supporters of the bill are hopeful they can cross that threshold.

They note that, on Wednesday, 47 Republicans voted for similar legislation in the House, which was easily passed. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree voted for it.

Marriage, like a woman’s right to making her own family planning decisions, should not be political. But, of course, it is.

And fundamental rights are not about popularity, but polling shows that most Americans support marriage equality. A Gallup poll in June found that 70 percent of U.S. adults think such unions should be recognized by law, with the majority of Republicans (55 percent) agreeing.

Near an elevator with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is gay, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said her legislation was a “stupid waste of time.”

Protecting Americans’ fundamental rights is never a waste of time.

Avatar photo

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...