House Passes Respect For Marriage Act, Sends Historic Bill To Biden

The legislation, which passed 258 to 169, codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.
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The House on Thursday passed the Respect for Marriage Act, sending the historic civil rights bill to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The bill, which passed 258 to 169, codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. Every Democrat voted for it, along with 39 Republicans. One GOP member, Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah, voted present.

The measure passed the Senate late last month, 61-36.

The bill actually lost GOP support compared to a previous version that passed the House over the summer. Thursday’s bill had stronger protections in it for religious freedom, changes made by the Senate in an effort to win over more conservatives. But for some reason — likely because people simply caved to strong pressure from conservative groups to oppose the bill altogether — the number of House Republicans who voted for Thursday’s bill dropped from 47 to 39, compared to the vote on the first version.

Curiously, a number of GOP members changed their votes this time around.

Republicans who previously voted to support the Respect for Marriage Act but opposed Thursday’s bill were Reps. Cliff Bentz (Ore.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Brian Mast (Fla.), Dan Meuser (Pa.), Scott Perry (Pa.), Maria Elvira Salazar (Fla.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.).

On the flip side, two Republicans who previously opposed the Respect for Marriage Act supported Thursday’s bill: Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.)

Owens, the lone “present” vote, previously voted yes.

And Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who previously voted yes, did not vote Thursday.

The bill does two things: It repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that banned same-sex marriage, and it requires states to recognize valid same-sex marriages from other states. It also ensures the same protections for interracial marriages.

In one of her final acts as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped pass the Respect of Marriage Act, a bill that codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.
In one of her final acts as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped pass the Respect of Marriage Act, a bill that codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.
Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

Marriage equality is already the law of the land, of course. It has been since 2015, when, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

But Congress is pushing through this bill in direct response to the conservative-led Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year, destroying 50 years of precedent, and some justices suggesting they should use the same rationale for overturning landmark decisions that have established the right to same-sex and consensual relationships.

Justice Clarence Thomas sounded the alarms when, as the court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, he wrote in a concurring opinion, “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

He was referring to the rights recognized in Griswold (contraception), Lawrence (sexual conduct with a member of the same sex) and Obergefell (same-sex marriage).

Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito previously called for revisiting same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry, too. In October 2020, they said the Obergefell decision was “undemocratic” and that “the court has created a problem that only it can fix.”

During Thursday’s vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said “right-wing forces have set their sights” on stripping LGBTQ couples from their right to marry.

“While his legal reasoning is twisted and unsound, we must take Justice Thomas at his word and the hateful movement behind him at their word,” she said on the House floor, in one of her final speeches as speaker. “Once signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act will help prevent right-wing extremists from upending the lives of loving couples, traumatizing kids across the country and turning back the clock on hard-won progress.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has suggested the court could use the same rationale it used for overturning Roe v. Wade to overturn other cases relating to same-sex marriage and the right to privacy.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has suggested the court could use the same rationale it used for overturning Roe v. Wade to overturn other cases relating to same-sex marriage and the right to privacy.
Alex Wong via Getty Images

The reality is that without Obergefell in effect, most states would have same-sex marriage bans. Thirty-five states still have laws on the books, whether in their constitutions, state laws or both, outlawing marriage equality.

Put another way, if today’s Supreme Court overturned Obergefell, the Respect for Marriage Act ensures that there is no federal ban in place that would invalidate hundreds of thousands of same-sex marriages that have been legally carried out to date. It also ensures that states with same-sex marriage bans, like Utah, would still have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states with their own marriage equality laws, such as Massachusetts.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the bill’s critics, said Thursday that he rejected previous claims by Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) that lawmakers not willing to protect interracial and same-sex marriages are “out of step” with the American people.

He backed up his argument by randomly attacking transgender people and abortion rights.

“The Democrats are the party who think men can use women’s restrooms,” Jordan shouted. “The Democrats are the party who think boys can participate in girls sports. The Democrats are the party that think you can take the life of an unborn child right up until their birthday.”

Minutes later, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked, “Why are we here this morning?”

“We’re here because dignity should be part of life in America,” she said. “It is shameful that we would have to be here today. But I proudly stand with my community, those who understand and recognize that it is crucial for the Respect for Marriage to pass, so that respect can go for the loving relationships, the families, the daughters, the sons, the aunts and uncles, the husbands and wives, and all that comes as family.”

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