Respect for Marriage Act : What Maryland and DC Gay and Lesbian Married Couples Need To Know

lesbian couple kissing each other with white wedding dresses; same-sex marriage protected by Respect for Marriage Act

On December 13, 2022, the Respect For Marriage Act was signed at a White House ceremony attended by thousands of jubilant supporters. See CNN news media report here and CNBC report here. Legislative efforts to pass the Respect For Marriage Act (“RFMA”) have been ongoing since at least 2011. After more than a decade of efforts, the signing ceremony was joyous. For text of the RFMA, see its Wikipedia page here.

As widely reported in the news media, the RFMA is federal legislation that legalizes same-sex and interracial marriages at the federal level and, just as importantly, REQUIRES States to recognize the validity of same-sex and interracial marriages that are validly entered into in other States (even if that other State were to make same-sex or interracial marriages illegal).

As also widely reported, for now, the RFMA is somewhat “academic” since same-sex marriages are currently legal in all parts of the United States pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015). Obergefell held that State laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional. Likewise, interracial marriages are currently legal in all parts of the United States pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, (1967). Loving held that State laws barring interracial marriages were unconstitutional.

However, if, at some point, the Supreme Court were to reverse either Obergefell and/or Loving, then the RFMA would “kick in” and protect the validity of same-sex and interracial marriages based on federal legislation. Generally speaking, something can be legal because a court has said that something is legal or because a law makes that something legal. With respect to same-sex and interracial marriage, those are now protected by BOTH the Supreme Court’s decisions and by federal law.

As noted in many media news reports, the specific impetus for passage of the RFMA at this point was the recent Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), which established abortion as a Constitutional right. The case that overruled Roe was handed down earlier in 2022 captioned Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Case No. 19-1392, 597 U.S. ___ (2022). In Dobbs, at least a couple of the Supreme Court Justices suggested that the reasoning behind overturning Roe might apply to cases like Obergefell and Loving. Consequently, to protect the rights enshrined by Obergefell and Loving, federal legislation was needed. And that is exactly what has happened when the RFMA was signed on December 13, 2022.

What the RFMA means for Maryland and DC gay and lesbian married couples

The RFMA means a great deal for Maryland and DC gay and lesbian married couples. It means, first, that at the federal level, same-sex marriages are entitled to all of the legal protections afforded all marriages. Practically, this means that all marriages will be treated the same for the purposes of taxes, benefits, immigration and more. The RFMA also provides solid, enforceable life-time protection for same-sex marriages. Should Obergefell be overturned, the RFMA will protect all same-sex marriages and the RFMA gives the federal Department of Justice AND private citizens the right to bring civil actions against States who violate the rights protected by the RFMA.

Maryland and DC Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and DC divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. We also have proven experience with divorce and family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.

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