The Debate Over the Respect for Marriage Act

The Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act on November 29, and the House of Representatives is expected to pass it this week. President Joe Biden has already said he will sign it. The bill is the result of months of work by congressional leaders to create legislative protections for same-sex married couples.

The History of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

Gay marriage was legalized across the country with the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). The case decided two things: (1) states must give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and (2) states must recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states.1

Before Obergefell, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which limited the definition of marriage (in the eyes of the federal government) to unions between a man and a woman. DOMA allowed states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Couples who were married in states that licensed gay marriage could not access the federal protections and privileges of legal marriage, such as access to a spouse’s employment benefits, the rights of inheritance, and tax benefits.2

Because the right of gay couples to marry is currently protected by a Supreme Court decision, advocates for the Respect for Marriage Act argue that more permanent protections, in the form of a national law, are necessary. The Court rarely overturns its past decisions, but it did so with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), which overturned the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade (1973). In Dobbs, Justice Clarence Thomas included in his concurring opinion that the Court should reconsider its previous decisions about the right to access contraception, same-sex marriage, and same-sex romantic relationships.3

What Does the Respect for Marriage Act Include?

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal DOMA and prohibit states from denying out-of-state marriage based on sex, race, or ethnicity. It would not require all states to continue providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but states would have to recognize those marriages performed legally in other parts of the country. The bill is intended to act as a protection for the more than 710,000 same-sex married couples in the country in case the Supreme Court reverses its Obergefell decision.4

The bill includes an amendment guaranteeing that faith-based groups would not lose their tax-exempt status or risk losing federal grant money for their objection to same-sex marriage, and that such groups would not need to recognize same-sex unions. This amendment was a bipartisan compromise for the 12 Republicans who joined Democrats in voting 61-35 to beat a filibuster in the Senate. Several churches and religious freedom organizations that do not support same-sex marriage endorsed the bill, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.

Opponents of the Respect for Marriage Act say it is an attack on religious liberty, and that it does not include sufficient protections for people and organizations who hold religious beliefs that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman. The Catholic Church and several conservatives publicly criticized the legislation, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and James Lankford (R-Okla.). The senators stated that the bill would make churches, religious organizations, and businesses vulnerable to lawsuits if they do not recognize gay marriage.5

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do advocates of the Respect for Marriage Act believe it is important to pass?
  2. Why do opponents of the bill believe it should not be passed?
  3. Why might religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage support this bill?
  4. What are the differences between rights protected by the Supreme Court and those protected by federal law?
  5. What do you think the role of Congress should be when it comes to the issue of gay marriage rights?

Additional Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.


Featured Image Credit: Jacquelyn Martin for the Associated Press

[1] Oyez. Obergefell v. Hodges. Web. 5 Dec. 2022.

[2] Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. “Defense of Marriage Act.” Web. 5 Dec. 2022.

[3] Alfonseca, Kiara. “Supreme Court Opens Door to Overturning Rights to Contraceptives, Same-Sex Relationships and Marriage.” ABC News. 24 Jun. 2022. Web. 5 Dec. 2022.

[4] Karni, Annie. “Same-Sex Marriage Bill Passes Senate After Bipartisan Breakthrough.” New York Times. 29 Nov. 2022. Web. 5 Dec. 2022.

[5] Waters, Emma. ”Radical ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ Could Spell End of Religious Tax Exemptions.” Heritage Foundation. 30 Nov. 2022. Web. 5 Dec. 2022.

Deliberating About Pressing Issues

Classroom discussion of current issues is one of the most powerful tools available to help young people develop the skills and knowledge required for democratic citizenship.1 There are many forms that such discussion can take, including short reactions to news articles, debates, and semester-long legislative simulations. While all of these forms have their place, one of the best things that schools can do, for multiple reasons, is to incorporate more deliberation.

What is Deliberation?

Deliberation is a specific form of discourse. In deliberation, participants explore a range of options, approaches, and priorities to determine the best resolution to a challenging political or social problem. In effect, deliberation is about answering the question, “What should we do?”2 In a deliberation, students approach an issue with a broad range of options and attempt to reach consensus.

Discourse Type Rationale Sample Questions
Discussion: Open-ended conversation about a topic  

A discussion is a good way to introduce new ideas, brainstorm about an issue, and assess what information students already know before engaging in a debate or deliberation.

Students will be open to new ideas and make connections to other knowledge, to current events, and to their personal lives.


Where do you get your ideas and information about immigration?

What are the benefits and drawbacks of immigration?

What can we learn from history to help make decisions about immigration policy today?

Debate: Revolves around a central question with two or more predetermined options A debate helps students better understand an issue, prioritize and evaluate various arguments, and practice public persuasive speaking.

Students will defend their positions with thoughtful and persuasive arguments. 


Should the United States provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants?

Should the United States prioritize highly skilled immigrants?

Should the United States expand access to legal immigration, restrict access, or keep the current levels?


Deliberation: Participants exchange perspectives and ideas to reach consensus on an issue and identify solutions Once students have a thorough understanding of an issue, a deliberation asks them to listen to each other, build consensus, and compromise to create a nuanced, complex proposal (or solution).

Students will consider many different positions, seek compromise with their peers, and ultimately attempt to reach consensus.


What should be the highest priority of immigration reform efforts?

What should the United States do about the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country?

What actions, if any, should governments take to reform immigration?


Why Deliberation?

Deliberation about current issues presses students to seriously weigh the values and ideas of other participants. Deliberation has the potential to build empathy for other experiences and perspectives and to develop patience and openness with those with whom you might otherwise disagree.3 Because of the threat to our democracy posed by hyperpartisanship and polarization, building this empathy and openness is an important task for civic education.4

READ: “Anger, Fear, and Polarization” on the Current Issues Blog

Incorporating Deliberation

There are many ways to incorporate deliberation in the classroom.5 One approach, the structured academic controversy, calls on students to understand and defend multiple perspectives on the same issue. See an example from PBS NewsHour Extra here.

Another common example, the Socratic seminar, involves students taking ownership of the discussion and engaging with multiple sources to build expertise. While a structured academic controversy can be done fairly quickly, a Socratic seminar requires significant time to implement. See resources from Edutopia and Facing History & Ourselves for more guidance and examples of the Socratic seminar.

There are many other approaches to deliberation that range in time commitment between the structured academic controversy and the Socratic seminar. Fishbowl discussions and co-pilot discussions are also great approaches to help students explore multiple perspectives.

For a deeper dive into classroom deliberation, please join us for Close Up Conversations with Dr. Paula McAvoy, associate professor of social studies education at North Carolina State University. Dr. McAvoy will share insights from her recent research on how deliberation and consensus-building can help students feel respected when learning about controversial issues and engaging in structured political discussion. Click here to register for the webinar, which will take place on September 29 at 6:00 PM ET.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Gustavus Adolphus College

[1] Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy: The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education

[2] Peter Levine:

[3] Michael Morrell: Empathy and Democracy: Feeling, Thinking and Deliberation; Diana Mutz: Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy

[4] Teaching Channel:; Newsweek:

[5] Teaching Channel:


The Supreme Court Will Address DACA. What Will Follow?

On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about the Trump administration’s efforts to end the immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The status of DACA recipients has been in limbo for over two years amidst administration actions and court injunctions.

What Is DACA?

After Congress failed in its attempts to pass a bill dealing with undocumented immigrant minors,1 then-President Obama created DACA in the run-up to his reelection campaign in 2012.2 The program deferred deportation for undocumented individuals who arrived in “the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were under age 31, had continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007,”3 had not committed serious crimes, and met educational or military service requirements.4 Considered a temporary fix awaiting congressional immigration reform, DACA allowed for infinite renewals of two-year deferrals.5

How Did DACA Reach the Supreme Court?

The Trump administration decided not to defend DACA in a possible court case,6 arguing that the Obama administration lacked the authority to establish the policy—a claim that opponents characterized as a misread of the law, open to judicial review.7 These opponents assert that the policy change did not meet federal standards and that the Trump administration violated due process and “the Equal Protection Clause because it was motivated by discriminatory animus.”8 Lower courts agreed and left the law temporarily in place.9 After repeated requests, the Supreme Court agreed to weigh in.10

The Supreme Court must decide if courts can review the policy change and if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made the change lawfully.11 The administration argues that their agencies have the necessary discretion (so courts cannot intervene) and that their legitimate rationale included doubts about DACA’s legality12 absent congressional authorization.13 DHS also claims that DACA encourages further illegal immigration, because it undercuts the “ability to send ‘a message that leaves no doubt regarding the clear, consistent and transparent enforcement of the immigration laws.’”14

Where Does DACA Stand Now?

Currently, DHS is not accepting new DACA applications, but it is continuing to process renewals.15 As of June 2019, there were approximately 660,880 active DACA recipients.16

What’s Next for DACA?

DACA activists have begun a 230-mile march from New York City to the Supreme Court,17 highlighting the significant personal stakes they want the Court to consider.18 Their allies cite DACA’s high polling approval,19 economic benefits,20 and support from an array of large businesses.21 Their opponents argue that the executive order is an executive overreach,22 and they want a legislative compromise that includes increased border security and limits to further immigration.23 President Trump has hinted at a possible deal,24 depending on the Court hearing. The justices’ decision will likely come in June 2020.

VIEW: What’s on the Supreme Court calendar?

READ: Legal analysis of the DACA case on SCOTUSblog

For further reading on DACA, please see Close Up in Class’ Controversial Issue in the News on the subject.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How present are recent immigrants in your school and community?
  2. Do you think the DACA policy encourages other immigrants to enter the United States illegally?
  3. Should DACA limit the number of deferrals that recipients can access? Should recipients be able to achieve lawful permanent resident or citizen status?
  4. Should the fate of DACA be determined on its own, or should it be part of a larger set of immigration reforms? If the latter, what reforms are necessary?
  5. Should a president be able to bypass Congress with an executive order to establish an immigration program like DACA, or is that an overreach (an abuse of power)?
Featured Image Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images, via
[1] American Immigration Council:
[2] NBC News:
[3] Department of Homeland Security:
[4] Ibid.
[5] NBC News:
[6] PBS NewsHour:
[7] Oyez:
[8] Ibid.
[9] Reuters:
[10] NBC News:
[11] Oyez:
[12] CNN:
[13] NBC News:
[14] Ibid.
[15] Department of Homeland Security:
[16] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:
[17] New York Daily News:
[18] Vox:
[19] Washington Post:
[20] PBS NewsHour:
[21] CNBC:
[22] Fox News:
[23] Fortune:
[24] Washington Post:


President Trump Seeks to Further Reduce U.S. Military Presence in Syria

American soldier faces ISIS fighters in SyriaOn October 6, 2019, President Trump made the surprising announcement that he would pull out most of the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria, where the United States has been working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and to repel Russian and Iranian influence in the region. Apparently, this announcement was made without the knowledge of most of President Trump’s cabinet, including the State Department.1

The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, when government forces violently suppressed protesters who were calling for Assad to step down. The conflict has been deadly and devastating, resulting in six million Syrian refugees and another six million citizens internally displaced (out of a population of around 18 million people).2 The war has allowed for extremist groups, including ISIS, to gain power in the region; since 2014, the United States has partnered with the SDF to fight extremists and Assad’s forces.

However, Turkey—a NATO ally that is also fighting against Assad—has long considered the Kurds on their border to be a threat and have promised strikes against them in the last few months.3 The Kurds have benefited greatly from the partnership with the United States, which has allowed the formerly oppressed minority group to establish Kurdish schools and set policies that represent their interests.

Removing U.S. troops would allow Turkish forces to control the area in northeastern Syria along the Turkish and Iranian border, which is currently held by U.S. and SDF forces. Turkey presently claims that its goals include removing Kurdish forces from the area and resettling Syrian refugees along the border.

Throughout the week of October 6, U.S. troops have pulled back from the Turkish border. Increased violence in the region began almost immediately after President Trump’s announcement, and on October 9, the Turkish military fired shots in Syria. In response, the Kurdish authorities stated, “We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance.”4 ISIS suicide bombers have also attacked Kurdish positions in the Syrian city of Raqqa.5

President Trump’s withdrawal announcement met backlash from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong Trump ally, calling the move “short-sighted and irresponsible.”6 Critics argue that Turkey is planning on diluting the power of the Kurds in their historic homeland by resettling millions of ethnic Syrians in the area.7

In order to keep Turkish forces from attacking Kurdish allied forces and the Kurdish population in the area, President Trump tweeted that he would, “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if they did anything “off-limits” after the United States pulls out. The Trump administration has said that the Kurdish alliance is complete and that the Kurds are strong fighters, “but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to [fight against ISIS].” President Trump indicated that it is time for the United States to remove itself from the conflict and bring troops home.8

Discussion Questions

  • What have you heard about the Syrian civil war?
  • Should the United States continue to keep troops in Syria? Why or why not?
  • How, if at all, should the United States support the Kurds in Syria?
  • Does the United States have a responsibility to ensure that its transition out of the region goes smoothly? Why or why not?
  • What should be the role of the United States in protecting oppressed groups around the world?


Featured Image Credit: Reuters
[1] New York Times:
[2] United States Institute of Peace:
[3] Washington Post:
[4] Fox News:
[5] CNN:
[6] CNN:
[7] The Atlantic:
[8] New York Times:


Understanding the Current Impeachment Inquiry

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters with microphonesIn late September 2019, it was revealed that an officer at the Central Intelligence Agency filed an official complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general, alleging that President Trump had engaged in an inappropriate phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky on July 25. The whistleblower alleged that President Trump threatened to withhold approximately $400 million in military aid to Ukraine unless President Zelensky agreed to launch an investigation into the business activities of Hunter Biden. (Hunter Biden—the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential rival for President Trump in the 2020 election—used to work for a Ukrainian gas company.)1

Shortly after this information became public and the White House released an edited summary of the phone call, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would begin a formal impeachment inquiry, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.2

What is Impeachment?

READ: The Close Up in Class Primer on Impeachment

Impeachment is the adoption of formal charges against the president or another civil officer in the federal government. The impeachment process begins in the House. The House is responsible for carrying out an investigation, or impeachment inquiry, into potential wrongdoing by an official. After the investigation, if a simple majority of the House votes in favor of formal articles of impeachment, the official is impeached. Impeachment does not mean an official will be removed from office.

Next, the process moves to the Senate. The Senate conducts a trial for the impeached official, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the senators present in order to convict the impeached official. The penalty for conviction is removal from office. In some cases, the Senate has also disqualified an official from holding public office again in the future.

Only two presidents—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—have been impeached, but both were acquitted by the Senate. To date, no president has been removed from office by the Senate. (The House launched an impeachment inquiry into the actions of President Richard Nixon, but he resigned before the full chamber voted on articles of impeachment.)

Impeachment is a Real Possibility; Removal is Much Less Likely

With at least 226 members of the House supporting the impeachment inquiry, it is a very real possibility that the House could impeach President Trump.3 And as more information has come to light, including a second whistleblower,4 allegations that President Trump asked other countries for investigations,5 and the arrest of two associates of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani,6 public support for impeachment has grown.7 On October 8, Fox News released a poll indicating that 51 percent of respondents not only want President Trump to be impeached but removed from office as well.8

However, the path to removing President Trump from office contains several significant hurdles. Not only would a vote to convict President Trump, if he is impeached, set a striking precedent (as the first removal of a president in U.S. history), the fact is that the votes simply may not be there.

Currently, the Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats. Even if all 47 Democrats and independents voted to convict in an impeachment trial, they would need the votes of 20 Republicans as well in order to remove the president from office. This would be difficult in normal circumstances; it is particularly unlikely with a national election approaching in 2020.

President Trump remains popular among Republican voters, with 87 percent voicing their approval to Gallup in mid-September. Among independents, the president’s job approval rating is 36 percent.9 For the 23 Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020, as well as some Democrats in heavily Republican states, voting to remove the president from office could inspire their constituents to vote them out. For many senators, it may not be worth the risk, especially since voters will have the chance in November 2020 to vote on President Trump’s reelection themselves.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe President Trump should be impeached? Do you believe he should be removed from office? Why or why not?
  2. Should asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent in exchange for aid count as an impeachable offense?
  3. Do you believe it is reasonable to require a simple majority vote (50 percent +) in the House for impeachment but a supermajority (67 percent +) in the Senate for removal? Why might these standards be different?
  4. Besides removal from office, do you think an impeached president should face other less/more severe sentences if convicted?


Featured Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Politico
[2] Ibid.
[3] New York Times:
[4] ABC News:
[5] The Guardian:
[6] Washington Post:
[7] Ibid.
[8] Fox News:
[9] Gallup: