Jul 25, 2022

The Respect for Marriage Act.

The Respect for Marriage Act.

The bill is garnering support among Republicans.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The Respect for Marriage Act. Plus, a question about local news.

Images from a same-sex marriage bill protest in Minnesota, in 2013. Photo: Fibonacci Blue
Images from a same-sex marriage bill protest in Minnesota, in 2013. Photo: Fibonacci Blue 


In Friday's edition summarizing the January 6 hearings, I referenced allegations that President Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of "The Beast," the official limousine that carries the president. In fact, on January 6, President Trump was traveling in an SUV, not "The Beast." One of the witnesses during the hearings did reference “The Beast,” which created the confusion.

This is our 65th Tangle correction in our 156-week history. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Quick hits

  1. An intoxicated man attempted to stab Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is running for New York governor, during a speech he gave in Rochester on Thursday. The man has been arrested and charged with attacking a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon. (The attack)
  2. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas from the U.S. House Select Committee investigating January 6. Each count carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail. (The charges)
  3. Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement with Turkey and the United Nations to resume exporting millions of tons of Ukrainian grain. Russia struck the port city of Odessa just hours after the deal, putting it in jeopardy. (The agreement)
  4. The U.S. is considering supplying Ukraine with fighter jets, according to the White House. (The plan)
  5. President Biden’s Covid-19 symptoms are improving, his doctor says. (The latest)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The Respect for Marriage Act. On Tuesday, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would establish federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriage. While the bill was initially designed as a message piece from Democrats, it received surprisingly robust support — 47 votes — from House Republicans. So now it’s headed to the Senate, where it was previously believed to be dead on arrival, with Democrats hoping that it may become law.

The bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. It would guarantee the recognition of same-sex marriages and interracial marriages under federal law. Currently, the legality of same-sex marriage is protected by the outcome of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges.

After the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, though, in which Justice Clarence Thomas's written opinion suggested that other rights could be reevaluated next, Democrats moved to push the legislation through Congress. However, the Respect for Marriage Act does not codify the Obergefell ruling nationally.

Instead, if the court were to overrule it, the new bill would require any state that stops issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples to recognize same-sex marriages that have been lawfully performed in other states.

The ascension of support for same-sex marriage in the U.S. has been one of the swiftest social changes in American history. About 71% of Americans, including most Republicans, now support it, according to recent Gallup polling. That's up from just 27% in 1996.

Many Republicans in the Senate have been non-committal so far on the bill. CNN asked all 50 Republican senators how they would vote. Five — Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — said they were going to or likely to vote for the bill. Eight said they would vote no, 15 were non-committal, and 22 didn't respond. Democrats need just 10 Republican senators to vote yes to overcome the filibuster.

Below, we're going to take a look at some commentary about the bill from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left supports the passage of the bill, arguing that it is necessary to preserve the right to same-sex marriage.
  • Many call out the public support for the legislation and events in other countries.
  • Others point to the importance of the federal government taking action, since many individual states won’t.

In CNN, Allison Hope insisted that the bill is necessary, and that it's possible LGTBQ rights could be lost otherwise.

“The bill comes at a critical time when so many hard-earned rights and protections are under threat,” Hope wrote. “LGBTQ+ families, including mine, have been dusting off our living wills and seeking legal advice to ensure we are as protected as we can possibly be in the event that our marriages are dissolved. Of course, the fact that our rights are up for debate at all is incredibly frustrating at best and terrifying at worst. This weighs heavily on me as my family is preparing to travel to Bermuda this week. I have been anxiously reading up on the British territory's fight for same-sex marriage, which has been legalized and overturned twice in the span of five years. Earlier this year, a London tribunal ended the lengthy legal battle by ruling that a Bermuda law banning same-sex marriage is constitutional.”

“The last time I went to Bermuda with my then-girlfriend more than a decade ago, marriage wasn't an option there or in my home state of New York. A lot has changed since then; my wife and I are now legally married and we have a child,” they said. “So much rides on our legal protections, and what's happened in Bermuda really illustrates what's at stake. As I gather our family's documents to ensure we are protected in the event something happens while we're traveling, I can't help but wonder if this is how I'm going to have to live my life should the Supreme Court overturn marriage equality in the US. Will we need to carry our adoption papers when we go to the grocery store? Our living wills when we go to see the Grand Canyon? Will we have to go back to filing separate state and federal taxes, forced by the legal system to deny the existence of our relationship in order to complete our required paperwork?”

Joni Madison said opponents of same-sex marriage face an uphill climb and should "give up."

“With the devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade putting access to safe, legal abortions in jeopardy for millions, many people fear that other court-protected civil rights could also be on the line — including marriage equality. Tuesday’s vote gave those worried about what the Dobbs v. Jackson decision could mean for their marriages a brief moment to exhale because it once again proved that marriage equality enjoys broad, bipartisan support. The Respect for Marriage Act would ensure that federal protections for marriage equality are protected nationally through several provisions. Among other things, it does this by erasing a black mark in our nation’s code: the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and denied married same-sex couples over 1,100 federal benefits and protections.

“In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a part of DOMA was unconstitutional, but the remainder of the law is still in place but unenforceable,” Madison wrote. “The Respect for Marriage Act would also shore up other federal marriage benefits by affirming that couples who travel to another state to get married will still keep federal marriage benefits, even if their own state ceases to recognize marriage equality. It also ensures that states must recognize the public records — things like adoption orders — of other states and codifies the Supreme Court decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor, both of which rendered DOMA unenforceable.”

The Washington Post editorial board called on the Senate to pass the bill.

“Some have complained the bill only codifies existing law and distracts from more pressing items, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) going so far as to call it a ‘stupid waste of time,’” the board wrote. “Yet, after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — and Justice Clarence Thomas’s unrestrained concurring opinion in the case — advocates worry that other precedents resting on the due process clause could be targeted next. This includes Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that enshrined the right to same-sex marriage across the country.

“There might not be an immediate threat to Obergefell, but millions of LGBTQ Americans fear their hard-won right to marry whomever they love could at some point be taken away,” it added. “This bill would relieve that uncertainty and enshrine their rights in the future. It comes at a particularly trying time for the LGBTQ community. From Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ law barring teachers from bringing up sexuality and gender identity in classrooms, to Texas’s targeting of gender-affirming care for transgender adolescents, a number of jurisdictions have enacted policies designed to exclude and stigmatize. And right-wing activists and politicians are increasingly relying on dangerous rhetoric around sexuality in an attempt to stoke a culture war.”

What the right is saying.

  • Many Republicans oppose the bill, arguing against it as a moral issue or a state's rights issue.
  • Some call out the importance of preserving the traditional institution of marriage.
  • Others say Republicans should vote for the bill for a number of reasons, including individual liberty and freedom.

In National Review, the editors said Republicans supporting the bill were "making a mistake."

"We do not deny that committed same-sex relationships can and often do have much of great value: affection, mutual caregiving, love. Some same-sex relationships clearly exceed some opposite-sex ones in these important measures," the editors wrote. "But marriage as an institution, including its governmental dimension, does not exist to award certificates of worthiness on loving relationships. Love needs no license from the state. The stipulation that marriage unites two people, and only two people, does not rest on any official determination that three or more people cannot have the same feelings for one another, provide the same care, and so on — as “throuples” have increasingly insisted that they can since Obergefell.

"It rests instead on the biological realities of our sexual dimorphism and complementarity, the economic needs of mothers and children, and the long train of human history, experience, and tradition," they added. "The reason it was considered the union of one man and one woman until just yesterday is because such unions, and only such unions, often produce children. Other, varying rules surrounding it — age restrictions, bans on participating in simultaneous marriages, and so forth — built on that basic reality... Same-sex marriage was not the first step away from this model of marriage. Many social trends and legal developments have weakened the links between sex, marriage, and child-rearing. But that weakening has generally been regrettable rather than laudable. The need for a marriage culture that channels adult behavior in a way conducive to the well-being of children remains as vital as ever. Same-sex marriage obscures the purpose of marriage as an institution and therefore makes the institution less capable of achieving it."

Andrew Walker and Carl Trueman said the bill deserves no respect.

"It should be noted, for argument’s sake, that interracial marriage is not like same-sex marriage in any respects," Walker and Trueman said. "Interracial marriage possesses the attributes necessary to form a marriage — maleness and femaleness. Same-sex ones do not. Skin color is utterly irrelevant to one’s ability to form a marriage, whereas sex is essential. The difference of the sexes is what gives rise to the need for marriage to begin with: To unite a mother and father’s enfleshed love to the need of their offspring’s security and well-being. So conservatives should brush off hysterics that opposition to the Respect for Marriage Act is akin to wanting interracial marriage banned or voided. That is hogwash. Race is a social construct. Male and female are biological realities, and the relationship of marriage, which requires sexual consummation and therefore involves a sexual complementarity, is not something that can be transformed by mere manipulation of the dictionary definition.

"And that takes us to the real significance of gay marriage," they wrote. "It is not merely an expansion of the relationships to which one can apply the term. It actually represents the triumph of the sexual revolution. It may well be that in a world of drag queens, kink, and BDSM floats at pride parades, the middle-class gay couple look rather conventional and harmless. Indeed, they may well be better neighbors, kinder people, more committed to each other, than many traditional married couples. But gay marriage nonetheless remains the result of a sexual revolution that assumes that sexual desire is central to identity, has turned sexual acts into mere recreation, and denies the significance of biology for human personhood... Yes, gay men and women and trans/queer activism are theoretically at odds on the significance of the sexed body for identity. But they are at one on the fact that desire is identity, that sex acts have no intrinsic moral value, and that biological complementarity is irrelevant to sexual relationships."

In The Washington Examiner, Brad Polumbo wrote about why House Republicans are right to support the bill.

"Citing Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in the case overturning Roe, many on the Left fear that the rights to gay marriage and interracial marriage could be overturned next," Polumbo wrote. "For a number of reasons I explained here, including the other justices specifically saying they’re not going to go there, I don’t think these fears are well-founded. But they are nonetheless widespread. Passing legislation would take these fears off the table and undercut the Democrats’ ability to use fearmongering about gay marriage as a political tactic heading into the 2022 midterm elections. It’s also the right thing to do as a matter of limited government and individual liberty.

"Now, to be clear, the 157 Republicans who voted against the Respect for Marriage Act had a variety of reasons for doing so. Not all of them actually oppose gay marriage — and they certainly don’t oppose interracial marriage," Polumbo said. "Other GOP opponents argued that marriage is a state’s rights issue or that the government ought not to be involved in marriage at all. This is a legitimate perspective, but again, it does not justify voting against the Respect for Marriage Act. For one thing, if you truly believe gay marriage is a state’s rights issue, then you ought to support getting rid of DOMA because it imposed a traditionalist definition of marriage on to the entire country via federal law. And yes, federalism — leaving most things up to states — is generally a good principle. But it’s not really workable as a practical matter for citizens’ marriages to be recognized in one state but then, if they move, suddenly, they are no longer married."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment.

To be frank, this isn't much of a debate for me. This is bipartisan legislation supported by over 70% of Americans — and it’s legislation that gives people more freedom to live as they choose in their own country.

On top of the fact I want all of my friends and family members in same-sex relationships to have the freedom to marry the person they love, from a purely practical and political view this is precisely the narrow kind of federal intervention that I'm supportive of. It doesn't even go as far in codifying as Obergefell does, it simply insists that states must respect same-sex marriages that happen elsewhere (as they do for heterosexual marriages). Everything about it — that it’s widely supported, it advances individual liberty, and it's a narrow federal bill — all of its parameters are ones I typically support.

I also find the criticisms of the bill wholly unpersuasive.

Some conservatives above have argued that such legislation somehow degrades marriage — and attempt to pin the degradations of families and marriage more broadly on the gay rights movement and the sexual revolution. But the degradation of "traditional" marriages has nothing to do with same-sex couples who are interested in sharing the rights, privileges and validation that marriage offers everyone else.

All of the main reasons for marriage rates declining in the U.S. have nothing to do with same-sex couples: Women's labor force participation increasing, women's education expanding, women's economic independence growing, gender equality, more acceptance of children being born to unmarried parents, declining religious adherence, unstable jobs and strained finances. Scapegoating gay people for these trends isn't just a misrepresentation of the issue, it's a refusal to acknowledge all the other ways society is changing (many of them — like expansion of gender equality — for the better!).

I also don’t follow the logic that the point of marriage is to bear children, which implies that people who marry and don’t have children, or are unable to conceive, or whose kids tragically die, therefore have illegitimate marriages. Do people who adopt also have illegitimate marriages? Because if child-rearing is the point, then we should celebrate the many gay marriages that often lead to adoption.

And, again, the bill itself is actually a great piece of legislation. Take the words of Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), one of the Republicans supporting it:

“I kind of expected [this bill] to be filled with poison pills,” Meijer said. “[Yet] it’s only about 3.5 pages long, and it’s pretty straightforward. It says that with regards to a marriage between two individuals regardless of sex, ethnicity, race, or national origin, if it is legally performed in one state it has to be recognized for the purposes of state-based actions, such as taxation, in another state. That’s it... There’s no compulsion. There’s no threats to religious freedom. There is just the simple of question of, in the unlikely event that [Supreme Court decisions establishing the right to gay and interracial marriage] go away, making sure that there isn’t absolute chaos.”

I'm glad Democrats are acting and encouraged there are enough Republicans seeing clearly on the issue. Given that a majority of Republican voters now support same-sex marriage, it's actually shameful that it's such a struggle to find 10 Republican senators to back this bill — and that only 47 House Republicans supported it. They are put in Congress to represent their constituents, after all. It’s time they did so.

Your questions, answered.

Q: How would you recommend a person become and remain informed on their own local politics? What sources should people look for at that level and how can we try to find balanced information?

— Keith, Hamden, Connecticut

Tangle: I love this question. For starters, let me just say that local politics and local news are critical. Far too many Americans look to national politicians and the federal legislatures to solve problems that should really be solved by mayors, governors, state legislatures, and city and local councils. To get the best information about those politicians, you need local reporters and news outlets focused on them.

To that end, the number one biggest thing I can suggest is supporting your local news outlet financially. There is probably a print or digital news outlet that covers your county or town — even if it’s only weekly — and I would highly recommend giving them money. For instance, I'm traveling right now and writing this from Ohio. If I Google "newspapers in Ohio," I find lists of dozens and dozens. If I google "Cincinnati newspaper," the Cincinnati Enquirer comes up. I think most people who live in or near Cincy should be reading that paper regularly for coverage of events that are likely to impact them most directly.

Local news is the lifeblood of journalism, and it is dying. There are many purported reasons for this: the dynamics of ad revenue, which favor national outlets. Social media giants that favor national outlets. Giant publishers buying up small news outlets and then laying people off. But one reason less talked about is you and me, the readers.

Perhaps the number one reason why local news is dying is that not enough of us read it (or support it). So, yes: Read local news. A lot of it. And keep it alive by supporting it with subscriptions or donations if you can.

I'd also search your town with the word "newsletter" to see what comes up. For instance, Axios Local now has newsletters in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, D.C., Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, Nashville, NW Arkansas, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh, Richmond, Salt Lake City, Tampa, the Twin Cities and Seattle. Baltimore, Houston, Miami, and San Francisco are coming soon.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

New satellite images from NASA show just how drastically Lake Mead in Nevada is changing. 20 years ago, the reservoir was "stunningly full," Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River program director for the National Audubon Society, said about Mead and Lake Powell. But now the lake "finds itself perilously close to a Day Zero situation." Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States and a critical source of water for 25 million people across seven states, as well as some of the most important agricultural valleys in the world. The federal government has already taken steps to preserve water in the basin. The New York Times has the story.


  • 980,000. The estimated number of same-sex couple households in the U.S., as of 2019, according to the Census Bureau.
  • 58%. The estimated percentage of those households that were married.
  • 55%. The percentage of Republicans who supported same-sex marriage in 2021, according to Gallup.
  • 83%. The percentage of Democrats who supported same sex marriage in 2021, according to Gallup.
  • 71%. The percentage of all Americans who support same sex marriage in 2022, according to Gallup.

Have a nice day.

A border collie named Saul (after my own heart) is being credited as a real-life Lassie after leading rescuers to his 53-year-old owner who had fallen 70 feet in Nevada County. The dog's owner had broken his hip and ribs in the fall. He managed to crawl to cell phone service and call for help, but when rescuers began scouring the area they ran into the dog — who led them directly to his owner. "At first we didn't believe it because it sounded like a movie," said Sgt. Dennis Haack of the Nevada County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue. "When they came back and actually described it to us, the reality was that they had followed the dog directly to the victim." KCRA has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.