The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has underscored the importance of enshrining marriage equality into law.
From left, Sydney Myers-Nicholls holds signs with her dads Brian Nicholls and Jason Myers during the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Utah visit to the Salt Lake City office of Republican Sen. Mitt Romney on Aug. 1, 2022. Credit: Kim Raff / AP

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The U.S. House has passed legislation to protect the marriage rights of same-sex couples. The Senate has a bill to do so as well. Senators should pass it now.

More than seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was protected by the U.S. Constitution, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Concerns about the permanence of that decision have emerged after the court in June overturned the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision. That decision made it abundantly clear that writing fundamental rights into federal law remains important despite court precedent.

This is especially true as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion in the abortion 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.”

Weeks later, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin introduced legislation to protect marriage rights. Called the Respect for Marriage Act, this 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.

“We have worked across party lines to bring the Senate together and build support for the Respect for Marriage Act because we should be able to agree that same-sex and interracial couples, regardless of where they live, both need and deserve the assurance that their marriage will be recognized by the federal government and that they will continue to enjoy freedoms, rights and responsibilities that come with all other marriages,” Collins and Baldwin wrote in a column published last week by the Washington Post.

Their Respect for Marriage Act would 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. Independent Sen. Angus King also supports the bill.

Similar legislation passed the House in July, with 47 Republicans voting for it.

Collins said last week that the bill’s backers were “making good progress” in securing support for the bill, which needs votes from at least 10 Republicans to be passed. She said the bill, which is currently only 500 words long, may be amended to allay fears among conservative Republicans that it would infringe on religious liberty.

“Individuals in same-sex and interracial marriages need, and should have, the confidence that their marriages are legal,” the senators wrote. “These loving couples should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms of every other marriage.”

This basic standard, which is clear in their bill, should not be weakened.

And, although fundamental rights should not be about popularity, the senators note that over the past 30 years, Americans have grown more supportive of marriage equality. More than 70 percent of Americans support marriage equality, including 55 percent of Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll.

“It is time for the Senate to get the job done and pass this bill to protect marriage equality and ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally under the law,” Collins and Baldwin concluded in their column.

We couldn’t agree more.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...