Protect freedom to marry, by Ben Jealous
7/28/2022, 6 p.m.
We all know what people do tells you more about them than what they say. That’s true for politicians, too.
We see politicians who call themselves “pro-life” and “pro-woman” when they’re pushing to make abortion a crime, but shrug their shoulders when those laws result in greater risk of women dying during pregnancy-related medical crises.
Or who claim to be “pro-child” but try to force a 10-year-old rape victim to accept the physical and emotional trauma of bearing her rapist’s child.
It’s the same when it comes to marriage. A lot of politicians who posture as defenders of marriage just voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19, and would ensure that equal treatment of same- sex couples under federal law if passed by the Senate.
The right to marry has not always been protected for everyone. My own parents had to deal with the fact that some states still made it illegal for my White father and Black mother to get married. A Virginia judge upheld that state’s anti-marriage law claiming that God “did not intend for the races to mix.” In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned laws against interracial couples getting married.
Almost 50 years later, the Supreme Court rejected similar arguments that were used to defend laws making it illegal for same-sex couples to get married. When I was president of the NAACP, I was proud to lead the organization’s support of the marriage equality movement. And I was thrilled when the Supreme Court ultimately rejected state laws that discriminated against loving same-sex couples. Mildred Loving, half of the couple that took the interracial ban all the way to the Supreme Court, was also on board. She was grateful for the freedom to marry the person she loved and for the family they built together. And she wanted all Americans to have that same freedom.
Most Americans agree. Support for interracial marriage reached 94 percent last year, according to Gallup. And this year, support for same-sex couples’ right to marriage hit 71 percent, according to Gallup. But about three-quarters of the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives just voted against protecting those couples under federal law.
Why do we need a federal law to protect people’s freedom to marry? Because anti-equality groups have never accepted the Court’s 2015 ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry under the 14th Amendment and that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. They have vowed to overturn it. And because Justice Clarence Thomas just called on the Court to reconsider and overturn its marriage equality ruling — along with other rulings recognizing a right to privacy, protecting access to contraception, and de-criminalizing consensual sexual relationships between people of the same sex.
For years, Justice Thomas was an often-lonely voice on the extreme right-wing of the Court. But he has a lot more company out there now, especially with the three justices named by former President Donald Trump. They just overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping women of the right to make abortion-related decisions about their bodies and families.
Justice Thomas is just getting started, and it is clear that the far-right movement that helped overturn Roe v. Wade has same-sex couples as its next target.
We must stand up and make sure that Congress sides with the vast majority of Americans by passing a law giving federal protection to the millions of people who are in interracial and same-sex marriages.
It’s a good sign that the Respect for Marriage Act passed with the support of 47 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. It’s not such a good sign that three-quarters of the Republicans voted “no.” You can bet those members of Congress describe themselves as lovers of freedom and defenders of families. But their actions say otherwise.
The writer is president of People For the American Way and professor of the practice at the University of Pennsylvania.