Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed H.R. 8404, better known as The Respect for Marriage Act, which guarantees federal recognition of same-gender and interracial marriages. This new law, in part, repeals the infamous Defense of Marriage Act, which codified the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. DOMA was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support — including a yes vote from then-Senator Joe Biden — and the enthusiastic backing of President Bill Clinton.
RFMA also passed with bipartisan support, albeit shallower than that for DOMA. Three of Utah’s four House members and Sen. Mitt Romney voted “yes.” Rep. Burgess Owens, who voted for the bill originally in July, voted “present,” often considered a protest vote. Naturally, Sen. Mike Lee was opposed, but only after his amendment to further guard against conservatives’ favorite non-existent boogeyman, attacks on religious freedom, failed.
Now I’m cynical enough to think that the Utah Congressmen’s votes for RFMA aren’t a new-found sense of justice and equality for all. I think they may be teeing up for the activist uber-conservative U.S. Supreme Court to start repealing gay rights. See, DOMA was actually declared unconstitutional in 2013. Since it was widely based on a broad definition of “liberty,” which the current SCOTUS basically invalidated when it overturned Roe v. Wade, it would’ve been possible to overturn Windsor and reinstate DOMA.
RFMA does not codify the other important marriage equality SCOTUS case Obergefell v Hodges, which ruled that the 14th Amendment requires every state to license same-gender marriages and to recognize those performed in other states. With Roe out of the way, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested revisiting other pesky court rulings about contraception, same-gender relationships, and same-gender marriages in which “liberty” played a role. Cases like Obergefell. (He conveniently left off Loving v. Virginia, which legalized his own interracial marriage!)
The new law requires all states to recognize same-gender marriages, but it doesn’t require all states to license them. That means if Obergefell is felled, Utah laws against “gay” marriages, that were never removed from the books, would be back in place, while Utah would still have to recognize those marriages performed in other states.
Unlike previous attempts to offer legislative support for same-gender marriage, RFMA enjoyed support from several religious organizations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Hindu American Foundation, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, the Mormon Church supported a law positively impacting same-gender marriage.
Honestly, I don’t really care what the LDS Church, nor the Lutherans, Hindus, or even my own religion think about proposed legislation. I don’t believe any religious organization should support, oppose, have an opinion, or comment on legislative matters. I’m a steadfast believer in a strong separation between church and state. Nevertheless, perhaps there is a silver lining when it comes to the Mormon hierarchy’s support of RFMA.
You see, according to an index compiled by the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream, in partnership with the Legatum Institute, when it comes to “LGBT relationships and parenthood recognition,” Utah is tied for dead last with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. (Connecticut and Maine are tied for first.) That was down five spots from ten years ago — before both the Windsor and Obergefell rulings. Utah has also slipped several places from 23 to 30 in “LGBT non-discrimination laws.”
I can’t speculate as to why the LDS Church decided to publicly support the bill. But perhaps by offering its support for RFMA, even while stating that it continues to believe that marriage is between one man and one woman (which is its right), the guys on North Temple can affect positive change in those rankings. And change is good.