DES MOINES, Iowa – The U.S. Senate voted 65 to 37 in favor of cloture to move the Respect for Marriage Act forward for debate and a final vote.
Iowa’s U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, split their votes, with Ernst voting in favor of cloture and Grassley voting against it.
The Respect for Marriage Act requires states to extend “full faith and credit” to marriages even if it is not recognized in state law.
The bill is a reaction to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center that aimed at the Supreme Court’s recognition of “substantive due process” rights not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.
“Substantive due process is the core inspiration for many of the Court’s constitutionally unmoored policy judgments,” Thomas wrote.
Quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, he added, ‘(I)n future cases, we should ‘follow the text of the Constitution, which sets forth certain substantive rights that cannot be taken away, and adds, beyond that, a right to due process when life, liberty, or property is to be taken away.’ Substantive due process conflicts with that textual command and has harmed our country in many ways. Accordingly, we should eliminate it from our jurisprudence at the earliest opportunity.”
Progressives feared that rights to privacy, contraception, and marriage, including same-sex and interracial marriage, could be at risk.
Ernst did not offer a public statement, but Grassley warned about the threat he says the bill poses to religious institutions.
“Interracial and same-sex marriages are not under threat, and I don’t support reversing the federal recognition of these marriages. Of course I believe that all married couples should be able to continue to benefit from the same federal rights and privileges that Barbara and I have enjoyed for 68 years – regardless of their race or sexual orientation. Marriage is a contract that often leads to many other contracts, and the federal government cannot void these agreements and upend the plans that couples have relied on for years,” he said.
Grassley said there is no effort in Congress or the courts to overturn Loving v. Virginia or Obergefell v. Hodges.
“While failing to adopt this bill would have no practical impact on the status quo, passing it would put people with certain sincere religious beliefs at greater legal risk without also providing sufficient opportunities for them to defend themselves,” he added.
“My vote against this bill is not about opposing the recognition of same-sex or interracial marriages; it’s about defending the religious liberty enshrined in our founding documents. This legislation is simply unnecessary. No one seriously thinks Obergefell is going to be overturned so we don’t need legislation. I’ve heard from multitudes of Iowans who are fearful of freedom of religion lawsuits,” Grassley said.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill in July, and President Joe Biden said he would sign it if it passed.