TEXAS – President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act Tuesday, but the Texas constitution still only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.
If the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturns the 2015 decision that granted same-sex couples the right to marry, even with the new law, new same-sex couples may have to go out of state to be married in the future, and existing same-sex couples may not be recognized, meaning they could be forced to go out of state and get married again.
“(The Respect for Marriage Act) was a result of that fear that at some point, the Supreme Court might decide to reverse itself,” Southern Methodist University Constitutional Law Professor Dale Carpenter said. “When it appeared to some people that the Supreme Court might consider at some point down the road overruling its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, it became a major concern that same-sex marriages would suddenly not be legal.”
Earlier this year, the conservative court overturned 50 years of abortion rights across America, instilling concern in same-sex couples.
“I have literally lived in fear since Roe v. Wade was overturned,” said Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, who’s been married to her wife for seven years. “This literal weight that’s on your shoulders that your marriage could be taken away, it’s debilitating.”
Texas voters in 2005 overwhelmingly approved a statewide constitutional amendment, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
It’s not the only state with a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, but the Respect for Marriage Act, which gained bipartisan support, means every state will have to treat marriage equally, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.
“The Respect for Marriage Act would require the State of Texas to recognize those marriages validly performed in other places,” Carpenter said. “They could not deny benefits to same-sex couples who are married.”
He called the landmark federal law “very meaningful” for Texas same-sex couples.
“What this law does is provide to those Texans and millions of other people a little bit of certainty, added certainty, that their marriages are going to be protected,” Carpenter said. “It’s politically, at least, a signal that the country has very much moved on.”
And that’s enough to help people like Wallace sleep a little better.
“To think that my marriage could be invalidated when my wife and I took vows like any other couple … that is no different than a straight couple that makes that commitment,” Wallace said.