No, the Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states

The Respect for Marriage Act ensures marriage is recognized federally, regardless of sex, race or ethnicity. Here is what the law does and doesn’t do.

Story update as of Dec. 13, 2022: President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act during a ceremony at the White House. This story has been updated with the latest development.

The bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act was passed by the Senate on Nov. 29, and by the House on Dec. 8. President Joe Biden signed it into law less than a week later on Dec. 13. 

The law ensures that the federal government recognizes marriage regardless of race, ethnicity or sex and requires all states to recognize all marriages conducted legally in other states. 

In response to the Senate passage, Biden said, “The United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love.”

There has been some confusion about what the Respect for Marriage Act actually means for Americans. According to Google Trends data, people are wondering if it would make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. 


Does the Respect for Marriage Act make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states?



This is false.

No, the Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.


The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) grants protections for same-sex marriages, but it doesn't legalize them in all 50 states. Here is a look at what the law does:

What the bill does:

  • Federally recognizes all marriages, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin
  • Requires all states to recognize all valid marriages from states where the marriage was conducted legally 
  • Churches or any other faith-based organizations have the right to refuse to conduct marriages without recourse or legal action 

What the bill doesn’t do:

  • Require all 50 states to legalize same-sex marriage 
  • Prohibit states from taking steps to ban or restrict same-sex marriage if that right, currently protected by the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, were ruled unconstitutional  

The RFMA was introduced to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill that went into effect in the 1990s that limited the definition of marriage to being between only a man and a woman.

In 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage with its ruling in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges. The court ruled that heterosexual and same-sex couples had equal rights to marriage in all 50 states under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also said bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. 

In the Supreme Court ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, other constitutional rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, such as same-sex marriage,  were called into question. 

In Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the case, Thomas called on the court to overturn its rulings establishing a fundamental constitutional right to use contraception, the right of same-sex couples to marry, and a right to form intimate sexual relationships with other consenting adults. 

If the Supreme Court does rule in a future case to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the RFMA would be in place to federally protect same-sex marriage, but states could still choose to ban it. States would, however, have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that allow it.

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