House approves Respect for Marriage Act, sending it to Biden

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Thursday December 8, 2022
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds the Respect for Marriage Act bill that will soon be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. Photo: Screengrab
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds the Respect for Marriage Act bill that will soon be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. Photo: Screengrab

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday morning passed the Respect for Marriage Act on a 258-169 bipartisan vote. The bill now heads to President Joe Biden, who has pledged to sign it.

The House, which had already approved the bill in July, had to have a concurrence vote because of an amendment added in the Senate to include protections for religious liberty. The Senate gave its final passage of the bill November 29 on a 61-36 bipartisan vote.

Specifically, the Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" that was passed in 1996 but had key provisions struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 (Section 3, U.S. v. Windsor) and 2015 (Section 2, Obergefell v. Hodges). Not only does it require federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide but also mandates states must recognize such unions performed in other states.

According to Politico, 39 House Republicans voted for the bill Thursday morning, a decrease from the 47 GOP members who voted for it this summer.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in one of her final acts before she hands over the gavel to Republicans next month, praised lawmakers. She also mentioned the late Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004 when then-mayor and now Governor Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And she acknowledged the late ambassador Jim Hormel, whose wedding she officiated.

"Today, we stand against an urgent threat" to marriage equality because of the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June that overturned the right to abortion, she said. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion that stated other precedents, like the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, should be reconsidered.

That was the impetus for the Respect for Marriage Act, lawmakers said, as well as to jettison the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prohibited same-sex marriage and allowed states not to recognize such marriages if performed in other states. Over the years sections of DOMA have been repealed in other Supreme Court Decisions, including Obergefell (2015) and U.S. v. Windsor (2013), which found a key provision of DOMA was unconstitutional.

"Our history has always been about expanding freedom," Pelosi said, adding that the Respect for Marriage Act "takes DOMA off the books for good."

Gay Congressmember David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) spoke about the importance of the bill.

"For the first time in a decade we're sending a major LGBTQ+ rights bill to the president's desk," he said.

Lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), who shepherded the bill in the Senate, said the Respect for Marriage Act "would put to rest worries of couples' concern that an activist Supreme Court would take rights away."

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was a leader in sponsoring the bill. She thanked the 39 Republicans in the House and the 12 in the Senate who voted for it.

"Without their votes we would not be standing here today," Collins said.

Gay former Congressmember Barney Frank was also on hand. The Massachusetts Democrat was a leader in the fight against DOMA back in the 1990s.

"Today, I'm grateful to be here for the funeral of DOMA," he said.

With that, Pelosi signed the bill in the final step before it's delivered to the White House in what's called an enrollment ceremony.

LGBTQ organizations were ecstatic with the bill's final vote.

Kelley Robinson, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ rights organization, praised the House action.

"Today's vote in the House of Representatives sends a clear message: love is winning. At a time when the LGBTQ+ community continues to face ongoing attacks — from deadly violence to legislative assaults on our rights — today's vote is a clear victory for this country's 568,000 same-sex married couples, including me," Robinson stated. "The fact that this bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both chambers proves that marriage equality is supported by a wide swath of the American people. We eagerly await the president's signature on this important legislation — and look forward to continuing to fight for full equality for everyone in our community, without exception."

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