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In December 2022, Congress passed and President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA). The bill (1) repeals section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which permitted states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages created in other states; (2) forbids those acting “under of state law” to withhold recognition of marriages created in other states on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin; (3) creates mechanisms to enforce that prohibition; and (4) requires the federal government to recognize marriages validly created in one or more states. The RFMA also includes provisions relating to religious liberty.Supporters of the bill claimed that portions of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization raised the specter of the Court overturning Obergefell v. Hodges (which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage). They argued that the bill would be needed in the event the Court ever overturned Obergefell. Debate centered on (1) whether legislation to protect same-sex marriage was necessary; (2) the extent to which it would threaten the religious liberty of those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and (3) the efficacy of the religious liberty provisions in the bill.
Now in the wake of the RFMA passing, those discussions continue. To what degree does the RFMA affect or possibly impinge on religious liberty? Has anything really changed, or is this simply the codification of the status quo? Is this a statute ripe for abuse that threatens the exercise of religious liberty, or are the warnings issued concerning it perhaps overblown?
This panel of experts discussed these questions and others in this panel analyzing the Respect for Marriage Act, what it is, and what it means for religious liberty.
- Carl H. Esbeck, R.B. Price Professor Emeritus of Law / Isabelle Wade & Paul C. Lyda Professor Emeritus of Law, University of Missouri School of Law
- Gregory S. Baylor, Senior Counsel & Director of the Center for Religious Schools, Alliance Defending Freedom
- [Moderator] Matt Clark, President, Alabama Center for Law and Liberty
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