Respect for Marriage Act

On December 13, 2023, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, cementing the rights of same-sex, interracial, and interfaith couples who have, or who will marry in the United States. What does it say and does it mean for New Jersey families?

The Respect for Marriage Act includes three new congressional findings acknowledging the complexity of marriage: 

  1. No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.
  2. Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect.
  3. Millions of people, including interracial and same-sex couples, have entered into marriages and have enjoyed the rights and privileges associated with marriage.Couples joining in marriage deserve to have the dignity, stability and ongoing protection that marriage affords to families and children.

The law then expands and protects marriage rights in three key ways: 

  1. It repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA,” 1996), which previously banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage by defining marriage only as one between one man and one woman, and which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states. DOMA remained federal law despite a 2015 Supreme Court decision that established that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples, thereby legalizing marriages between same-sex couples in the United States. Read more about the history in our prior blogs: click here.
  2. Even following DOMA, many states authorized same-sex marriage.The Respect for Marriage Act now requires recognition of all marriages validly established under the laws of the various States or other countries in the past, which protects couples who may have feared that their right to be and stay married would be taken away.
  3. It recognizes States' rights to set marriage laws for any "two individuals," and upholds unions that are valid wherever those two individuals create the marriage.

New Jersey started recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry in 2013 and continues to recognize that right today. The Respect for Marriage Act preserves the validity of those marriages, contrary to any threat that might have appeared possible when the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health in June 2022 and the Justices commented upon the scope of the right to privacy and other prior rulings of the Court.

If you have any questions or concerns about the validity of your marriage, how the date of your marriage may impact your financial obligations in a divorce, or what rights your children have, whether you exchanged vows in New Jersey or anywhere else, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Cohn Lifland.  We see, and respect, the big picture and will be happy to consult with you.