Federal marriage rights bill makes same-sex couples nervous despite their agreement

While Congress is moving swiftly to ensure nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage, gay LGBTQ couples are frustrated it’s even necessary after so many years.

After a decade-long battle for Oklahoma’s right to marry, Mary and Sharon Bishop Baldwin were thrilled.

Eight years after they tied the knot, and seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional rights of same-sex couples to marry, they don’t take their union for granted.

They are happy that Congress is making rapid progress to recognize nationwide same-sex and interracial marriages . However, like many LGBTQ community members, they are disappointed it’s even possible after so many years.

Nov. 30, 202204:53

Sharon Bishop-Baldwin (54), said that “the very fact that we’re even having those conversations is really disheartening.” This was especially considering the dramatic shift in public opinion over 10 years, where polls show 70% of Americans now support same-sex marriage rights.

However, when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the high court, it suggested that the decision upholding gay married should be reconsidered. Democrats acted quickly to defend same-sex marriage, even though they still hold the majority in both Congress chambers.

Last week, the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act with the support of 12 Republicans. It’s expected that it will easily gain approval in the House and be signed by President Joe Biden.

Sharon Bishop-Baldwin initially said that she believed the act was “lip service.” However, she later changed her mind and realized that it would at most provide some protection.

Bishop-Baldwin stated, “It’s absurd to think that anyone in this country who has legally married in one place could suddenly become unmarried in the other.”

The couple’s 2004 Oklahoma lawsuit was filed after 76% of Oklahoma voters had approved a ban on gay marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state ban was unconstitutional ten years later. In another case, the Supreme Court ruled that every state had to issue marriage licenses for gay couples a year later.

“When we won,” one of our lawyers stated, “This is match, match, game, marriage”… and that’s exactly what we thought: We’re done,” Bishop-Baldwin said. She runs a small newspaper, and she met her husband in 1995, when they were both editors at Tulsa World.

The legislation would not codify or enshrine in law the Supreme Court decision that states must issue same-sex marriage licences. However, if the Supreme Court decision was reversed and states reinstituted bans, would still have to recognize legal same-sex marriages in other states.

Mary Bishop-Baldwin (61), said that she couldn’t see that happening at the Supreme Court, but that it was important to be ready. She also noted that Oklahoma’s ban on abortion is still in effect.

According to Jenny Pizer (chief legal officer at Lambda Legal), a LGBTQ civil rights organization, the possibility has “created a state of extreme anxiety, stress” in same-sex couples.

She said that this is especially true for couples with children. Both spouses are legal parents at the moment, which is important in case one of them dies, or divorces. Pizer stated that the bill is important.

Others are also concerned that the federal law could be overturned by the high court or future Congress.

Dawn Betts-Green (43), lives in Birmingham, Alabama with Anna Green, her husband. She was married in Florida in 2016. “It’s in the hands of whomever we elect, and that’s scary.

Although it might seem unlikely that constitutional protections will be overturned by Congress or the Supreme Court, it is possible that the Respect for Marriage Act will be overturned by the court.

She said, “The thought of returning to those times, frankly speaking, is terrifying.”

Betts Green and her wife raced to finish paperwork after Roe V. Wade was overturned. They were able to get “all of their legal ducks in order (because) they are clearly coming for us,” she stated. She also recalled a time when Betts Green was in Florida and was told by a nurse that Betts-Green wouldn’t be allowed to make medical decisions.

Other legal protections include the right to receive Social Security survivor benefits and to get health insurance through the spouse’s plan. There are also tax benefits such as the ability for a spouse to leave assets.

Betts-Green says the Respect for Marriage Act gives her a sense of security, but she also said that it is absurd that they are having to go through such a thing in 2022 for both queer and interracial couples. Although it’s not 1941, it feels like we have gone back in time.

Betts-Green stated that the issue of same-sex marital is also overshadowing other concerns such as antiLGBTQ legislation, harassment and attacks on LGBTQ persons, and most recently, the shooting at a Colorado nightclub which killed five people.

She said, “I am constantly reminded that it is the least of our problems in a lot many ways.”

Robbin Reed is a Minneapolis legal aid who is white and married to a Black transgender husband. She supports the act, but fears it might lead to more harm from those who might be offended by its protections.

Reed, who is a mother to an 8-month old child and performs in queer nightclubs with her husband, said that the law will not change my life. “This is an absurd situation.”

Although they are unsure that the Supreme Court will remove same-sex marriage rights from gay couples, the Bishop-Baldwins stated that they feel relieved to know there will be protections in place in case of an emergency. They argue that federal legislation shouldn’t be necessary.

“Is the Respect for Marriage Act sufficient? Of course not. Sharon Bishop-Baldwin said that “good enough should be” constitution protection.

Betts-Green stated that she would not be surprised if anything happened now: “You cannot ever really feel comfortable.”

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