President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law in a ceremony on the White House South Lawn, joined by political leaders and, yes, two representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. General Authority and executive director of the Public Affairs Department Jack Gerard and former Area Seventy Gordon Smith attended the ceremony.
“We extend a heartfelt thank you and our congratulations to all who played a part in the passage of the amended Respect for Marriage Act,” church leaders said in a statement. “Their efforts to protect religious freedom as Congress sought to codify the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision are both historic and commendable.”
The statement went on to reiterate the church’s beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Many wonder if the new law is a “good thing” or just what the purpose was since same-sex marriage was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.
One need only look at the ramifications of the Court reversing Roe v. Wade to see why there was a push to codify same-sex and interracial marriage. Laws remained on the books in several states, and legislatures across the country put laws into place that would only be recognized if and when the Court overruled Roe.
Attempts to change Utah’s state constitution and laws on the books to remove gender restrictions on marriage after the Obergefell decision were ignored by legislative leaders. Laws that restrict marriage to “between one man and one woman” are throughout the Utah Code and in its constitution. Should the Court ever overturn Obergefell, those laws would go back into effect.
Utah’s constitution, Article I, Section 29, currently states, “Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman.
“No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.”
Title 30 of the Utah Code is labeled “Husband and Wife” and states: “It is the policy of this state to recognize as marriage only the legal union of a man and a woman as provided in this chapter.”
“Except for the relationship of marriage between a man and a woman recognized pursuant to this chapter, this state will not recognize, enforce, or give legal effect to any law creating any legal status, rights, benefits, or duties that are substantially equivalent to those provided under Utah law to a man and a woman because they are married.”
Other parts of the code also reference “between a man and a woman,” as well as “husband and wife.”
2016 bill would change Utah law
In 2016, then-Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Park City, introduced HB 299, Marriage Revisions, to “make technical corrections throughout the code to the terms husband and wife.” Terms such as “the male or female” would be struck and replaced by “either party.” “Fathers and mothers” would have become “parents.” And “husband and wife” would become “husband and wife or other married spouses.”
The bill was never brought forward by legislative leadership.
Powell was named a district court judge later that year.
Sen. Derek Kitchen
In June, Sen. Derek Kitchen warned that Utah has a “trigger ban” on same-sex marriage and announced he would open a bill file to address changes to Utah’s marriage laws.
Kitchen was defeated in his re-election race and, to date, no other legislator has announced their intention to move forward with a bill.
Sen. Stuart Adams
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams indicated he would support the state trying to overturn Obergefell.
“I believe strongly that states ought to have the right to pass legislation and that the states ought to be where these issues are determined,” Adams said of the abortion decision.
Asked if he would support Utah joining with other states in hopes that the court would take another look at same-sex marriage, he gave an unequivocal “yes” answer.
Thirty-five states currently ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions, state law, or both, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and Stateline research.
All were invalidated by the Obergefell ruling. But should the now-more-conservative U.S. Supreme Court overturn the right to same-sex marriage, those state laws and constitutional amendments would kick in.
The biggest thing the RMA did, federally, was to remove the wording of the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA. Passed in 1996 under then-President Bill Clinton, DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples.
It also carved all same-sex couples out of federal statutes, regulations, and rulings applicable to all other married people — thereby denying them over 1,100 federal benefits and protections.
The RMA established that “place of celebration” is the standard of recognition for federal benefits of same-sex marriage. It also requires that, even if a state has laws or constitutional prohibitions of same-sex marriage, it still must recognize same-sex marriages that occur in states that do recognize it.
Under the RMA, marriages, adoption orders, divorce decrees, and other public acts must be honored by all states consistent with the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution. This adds additional protection for married couples and families.
“Marriage is a simple proposition: Who do you love? And will you be loyal to that person you love? It’s not more complicated than that,” Biden said. “The law recognizes that everyone should have the right to answer those questions for themselves without government interference.”