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HRC president reacts to Respect for Marriage act ahead of signing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Nearly 600,000 married couples in the United States can breathe a sigh of relief, in the words of our next guest. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the Respect for Marriage Act into law tomorrow. It codifies same-sex marriage into federal law. The legislation gained support after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That ruling raised fears that the justices could target marriage and other constitutional rights next.

Kelley Robinson is president of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights group that has been pushing for these protections. Good to have you here.

KELLEY ROBINSON: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: To quickly review, the Respect for Marriage Act repeals a law called the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional seven years ago. So why the urgency to take this step now to protect same-sex and interracial marriages?

ROBINSON: I mean, we saw after the Dobbs decision that, in so many ways, too many of our rights are just one Supreme Court decision away from being lost. And I know for me, as a queer woman of color in this country who's married, I was worried that at some point, the courts would also invalidate my marriage. Now I'm relieved because that's not the case. Congress has taken action to ensure that our marriages are valid, that our love will be respected.

SHAPIRO: You know, conservative justices who consider themselves originalists often say things along the lines of, if you want to make this a policy, get Congress to pass a law. Don't try to tell me something is in the Constitution when the literal words of the text don't say what you're arguing it says. And so in fighting to pass this law, on some level, are you saying to the originalists, you're right; we should do this through legislation instead of through judicial ruling?

ROBINSON: When Roe was overturned, it was the first time that the courts have been in the business of restricting our rights instead of expanding them. This is a moment of crisis in so many ways for our democracy. So I think what's important here is that the Congress took action to make sure that our rights are upheld and restored. I think it's also important to note that this is where the majority of the American people are. Over 70% of the country supports marriage equality. This is a matter of the policy actually catching up to where the people already are.

SHAPIRO: This passed with exemptions for religious organizations. Was that a compromise worth making?

ROBINSON: You know, what DRMA does is it upholds the status quo. It doesn't write new law. And in the status quo, there are religious exemptions in place for specific institutions. And I think that the values of it are still clear even with the exemptions. It ensures that the federal government will respect our marriages no matter what this extremist Supreme Court may do. That is important. So this is a strong piece of legislation that the Human Rights Campaign definitely stands by.

SHAPIRO: You and I are talking about this legislation protecting marriage at a time when a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills are being introduced in state legislatures. According to your organization's numbers, last year was the deadliest year on record for transgender people. In that context, should marriage really be the top priority of leading national LGBT rights organizations like HRC?

ROBINSON: Look; we don't have a choice but to fight on every front in this battle. Yes, passing the Respect for Marriage Act was truly important. But I'm also very clear that last year was the deadliest year on record for trans lives, particularly Black trans women. I'm very clear that we're seeing a rash of hate-filled legislation moving through the Supreme Court. I'm also very clear that it wasn't even three weeks ago that lives were stolen from us at Club Q. Being a part of this community, being a Black queer woman at that, I know that we've got to fight on all fronts.

SHAPIRO: And so with so much on the line, what's next? What's the top priority now?

ROBINSON: The state legislative sessions are front of mind for us. We are already seeing states pre-file bills that are attacking our community, particularly our trans youth. So we're going to be doing all that we can to stand up and fight this legislative session to make sure that these bills do not go into law and, even more than that, to stop this hate-fueled rhetoric that's attempting to dehumanize our community. That sort of rhetoric is resulting in real-life violence in our lives. That is a top priority for us.

SHAPIRO: Kelley Robinson is president of the Human Rights Campaign. Thanks a lot.

ROBINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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