Please Sir, Can I Have Some More Rights?

One step forward, two steps back for marriage equality.

Aparna Shrivastava, right, takes a photo as her partner Shelby Teeter gives her a kiss, after President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (Photo by AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

It’s been a big week for marriage equality. In a move that took even my cynical self by surprise, President Joe Biden signed into law the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA). The law officially revokes its ugly older stepsister the Defense of Marriage Act, which had been essentially rendered harmless by a previous Supreme Court in 2015. The fact that it was still on the books was a problem, because the current Supreme Court seems interested in overruling their prior decision.

The RFMA also guarantees federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages. This doesn’t mean that every state has to perform interracial or same-sex marriages—it only means that if SCOTUS overturns their prior ruling, that all states would have to recognize current marriages or marriages attained in a state where they are legal, such as Massachusetts. Texas technically still prohibits them under the now unenforceable state law. 

Part of the compromise for Republicans is that it offers protections for religious groups with moral objections to same-sex or interracial marriages who do not want to provide goods or services to marriages they object to. Also, their tax-exempt status cannot be rescinded if they refuse. In short, it codifies permitting religious institutions to discriminate against LGBTQ people, which will probably backfire on us at some point. 

But for now, we dance!

Honestly, when this came up as a possibility over the summer I thought it was yet another instance of DC using the LGBTQ community as a pawn in their political gamesmanship leading up to the midterms. If you’ll notice, every time there is an election on the horizon, all of the marginalized communities start getting threatened or pandered to in the hopes that we will vote a certain way. When sex doesn’t sell (and it rarely does in DC), fear does. 

I grew even more cynical when they punted it until after the midterms for the lame duck session in order to secure the necessary Republican support for the bill. But it turns out that was a smart move. Although the bill isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it is progress. And by progress, I mean it’s like being a lobster in the pot, getting excited that the water is getting toasty. 

But who doesn’t love lobster? Let’s dance!

Crumbs. We should be happy with the crumbs, right? Because they are better than nothing? Here’s some coal for Christmas: it’s better than nothing, better than a kick in the teeth. All of these are true statements about the RFMA. I think these crumbs are utter bullshit. It’s the result of an ongoing abusive relationship between America and its LGBTQ community. We are so used to being beaten down and starved that we are thrilled when we get anything. 

I am thrilled at the progress, but I am not thrilled at how undignified the whole thing is. It is undignified for the dominant culture to begrudgingly acknowledge our humanity and then ask us to thank them like we are Oliver Fucking Twist, or something. “Please sir, can I have some more rights?”


Hellllloooooo? Is this thing on?

Like Paula Abdul sang: One step forward, two steps back. It’s the story of our queer lives.

The RFMA is fine. It’s a shrug of a law. I am glad they turned the White House Rainbow and invited every white gay available to have cake and cheer at its signing (except for me). And it is a monumental shift in the right direction, especially for some Republicans who supported it. But it is not enough. Just a backstop to the worst-case scenario. That is literally what it is being called. Raise your hand if you want to have your rights referred to as a backstop.

But it’s better than nothing, and at least it wasn’t all talk for a change. So there’s that. Now we dance, at least until the dancehall says we can’t dance there because of their deeply held religious beliefs.


Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at
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