The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which codifies protection for same-sex marriage, is about to be signed by President Biden. It protects hundreds of thousands of families, but it does more than that. It is a step away from America’s political polarization. That’s not just because Congress managed to get something important done on a bipartisan basis. For the first time on the federal level, gay people and conservative Christians, who have each long regarded the other with bitter suspicion, found a way to work together. It is a step toward healing one of the most toxic divisions in American politics.
The bill, which requires states to recognize same-sex marriages celebrated in other states, had languished in Congress since 2009. It seemed obsolete after the Supreme Court declared such marriages were a constitutional right in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges.
That was all changed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s recklessly irresponsible statement in his concurring opinion in the case that reversed Roe v. Wade. Thomas observed that Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage, rested on a rationale similar to Roe. He said he hoped the Court would reverse that, too.
Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University, is the author of “Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed” (St. Martin’s Press). Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoppelman.