LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Residents of the Natural State are coming out for and against the Respect for Marriage Act, which a bipartisan group of U.S. senators voted for on Wednesday. The legislation would provide federal protections for marriage equality.
Twelve Republicans joined 50 Democrats in voting to advance the legislation, which will now need Senate and House passage before going to the president’s desk.
The bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, but it would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to decline to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Eric Reece is the State Director for the Human Rights Campaign, a group dedicated to civil and LGBTQ rights. Reece said this legislation would be big for many Arkansas families that have worried about the future of many rights since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court over the summer.
“One of the things I keep thinking about, particularly here in Arkansas, is we have same-sex couples who are married in every single county in the state,” Reece said.
Both Arkansas Senators joined 35 other Republicans in opposing the Respect for Marriage Act. In statements sent Thursday, Sen. John Boozman (R) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R) both said they think the legislation is a distraction.
“Rather than focus on family law, which is outside of Congress’s core constitutional duties, we should focus on the Democrats’ runaway spending and the border crisis, which are part of our core constitutional responsibility,” Cotton wrote.
Boozman expressed some of the same sentiments.
“This is an attempt by Democrats to score political points by manufacturing a threat to marriage that the Court acknowledges is unfounded while diverting attention away from their failed agenda that has made it harder for families to afford everyday essentials,” Boozman wrote.
Jerry Cox, the founder of the Family Council, a group dedicated to pursuing Conservative causes, sent a statement against the Act.
“The so-called ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ fails to respect the millions of Americans who believe marriage is meant to be the union of one man to one woman,” Cox wrote. “Like most states, Arkansans voted to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman in 2004. The Biden Administration and Congress are redefining marriage in a way that is going to have a chilling effect on our First Amendment freedoms and could hurt churches and charities who hold traditional convictions concerning marriage.”
Others said they were relieved to see steps to protect same-sex and interracial marriages in the shadow of Roe v. Wade’s overturning.
Gwendolyn Herzig owns Park West Pharmacy in Little Rock, which provides services for the LGBTQ community and other minority groups.
“Me and my wife have been married since basically right out of high school,” Herzig said. “We actually just celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary.”
Herzig said the overturning of Roe v. Wade caused alarm throughout multiple communities.
“It wasn’t just for the LGBTQ community,” Herzig said. “There were also interracial couples who were concerned. It really just puts people on edge and on alert.”
Herzig said she hopes the Respect for Marriage Act passes quickly.
“These types of protections are long overdue to be implemented,” Herzig said. “I’m glad it is going to pass.”