Oklahoma Delegation Responds To House Democrats’ Proposed ‘Respect For Marriage Act’

Tuesday, July 19th 2022, 5:56 pm


Several dozen Republicans joined Democrats in the the U.S. House Tuesday evening in passing legislation that would enshrine the right of same-sex and biracial couples to legally marry in federal law, making moot any potential Supreme Court ruling that would take away those rights. 

The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced Monday by Democrats and lone Republican Senator Susan Collins. In light of Justice Clarence Thomas’s suggestion, in his Dobbs v. Jackson concurring opinion, that the Court should revisit other cases tied to similar ‘rights’, the lawmakers felt it was necessary to take this precaution and protect marriage equality through the enactment of federal law. 

“LGBTQ Americans and those in interracial marriages deserve to have certainty that they will continue to have their right to equal marriage recognized,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) Monday, “no matter where they live, should the Court act on Justice Thomas’ draconian suggestion.” 

The legislation, which faces a tougher road to passage in the evenly divided Senate, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between a man and woman, and allowed states individually to decided whether to allow same sex unions. Ultimately, Oklahoma and 34 other states prohibited same-sex marriage, either through state law or changes to the state constitution. 

But 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges case determined portions of the DOMA law were unconstitutional, rendering those state prohibitions invalid. The Respect for Marriage Act would codify the Obergefell decision. 

"It simply says each state will recognize the other state’s marriages and not deny a person the right to marry based on race, gender, sexual orientation." said Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) during debate Tuesday. 

Members of the Oklahoma delegation seemed unlikely to support the measure, in part because they say Republicans were not given an opportunity to weigh in on its content. 

“Instead of working through the committees of jurisdiction,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4) in a Rules Committee hearing Monday, “the Majority instead drafted this bill behind closed doors in the Speaker’s office and sent it straight to the Rules Committee after giving members just one hour to review it.” 

Others in the delegation say repealing DOMA and thus overriding the states’ ability to decide the issues for themselves is the wrong way to go. 

“I am always about the states having the power that they deserve. I have made no bones about that,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK1) in an interview Tuesday. "I think that the American people who are closest to the issue in every state should be able to make those determinations." 

In his Dobbs opinion, Justice Thomas also suggested the Court revisit Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that guaranteed access to contraception. As a result, House leaders also introduced this week the Right to Contraception Act and are expected to bring it to the floor on Wednesday.