Same-Sex Marriage Bill Clears Congress, Heads to Biden’s Desk
WASHINGTON — The House gave its final approval on Thursday to legislation that provides federal recognition for same-sex marriages, sending it on to the president’s desk with strong bipartisan support.
Passage of the measure, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, was a major goal of House Democrats in the final days of their control of Congress. In the end the vote was 258-169, with one member voting “present.”
The bill received the support of 39 Republicans, though that was a drop off from the 47 Republicans who supported the measure in July.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post Thursday morning, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote that she was “overjoyed” that one of the final bills that she will sign as speaker will ensure the federal government “will never again stand in the way of marrying the person you love.”
The push to pass the legislation was part of the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and held the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.
In a concurrence to that ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court reconsider a number of other cases, including its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, in which the court said that same-sex couples are entitled to the same marriage protections as other couples.
In her op-ed, Pelosi said Thomas’ position, which she described as “twisted and unsound,” placed same-sex couples’ right to marry “under real, direct and urgent threat.”
“After the Obergefell decision was announced, Jim Obergefell declared to an ecstatic crowd outside the Supreme Court: ‘Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts: Our love is equal,’” Pelosi wrote.
“That is a truth that Democrats proudly honor this week as we carry on our mission to build a brighter, fairer future for generations to come.”
But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, strongly disagreed, accusing Democrats of conjuring up an “unfounded fear” that the Supreme Court was on the brink of nullifying same-sex marriage rights.
He went on to say the legislation, which formally repeals the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman and allowed states to refuse to honor same-sex marriages performed in other states, “takes the country in the wrong direction.”
While the outcome of Thursday’s vote in the House was a foregone conclusion, the chances of passing the measure in the Senate were far less certain this fall.
For weeks, it seemed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who whole-heartedly supported the measure, slow-walked it to a vote to ensure he had the 10 Republican votes necessary in the chamber to advance it.
In the end, according to a report in The New York Times, a group of influential Republican donors and operatives banded together with the bill’s proponents in Congress for a coordinated, $1.7 million campaign to persuade GOP senators that throwing their support behind the measure would be to their advantage.
Even then, the legislation was revised to address concerns among some Republicans that it would punish or restrict the religious freedom of institutions that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.
That was the version of the bill the Senate passed last month with the support of a dozen Republicans, sending it back to the House for a second vote to approve the changes.
Among those commenting after Thursday’s vote was Rep, Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., a longtime supporter and co-sponsor of the bill.
“The Supreme Court’s rulings in Obergefell v. Hodges and Loving v. Virginia have allowed millions of Virginians and Americans across our country in same-sex and interracial couples to marry legally,” Spanberger said. “But the Dobbs decision cast a dark shadow over those rights.
“I’m proud that a bipartisan majority of my colleagues voted to pass these protections and send this legislation to the president’s desk to make sure that marriage equality remains the law of the land,” she said.
“Enshrining into federal law the right of all Americans to marry the person they love demonstrates our commitment to protecting their constitutional rights.”
New Democrat Coalition Chair Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said “ Every American deserves the freedom to marry who they love. That’s why New Dems were proud to help pass the Respect for Marriage Act today to give same-sex and interracial couples the dignity, stability, and certainty they deserve.
“Every American, no matter who they are or who they love, is entitled to equal protection under the law, and Democrats will continue working tirelessly to preserve every Americans’ fundamental freedoms,” she said.
“Every American deserves the same guaranteed federal protections no matter who they are or who they marry,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. “Today, we made our position clear: we will not allow unelected right-wing justices to strip Americans of their established right to love without fear.”