House passes bill to protect same-sex marriage on bipartisan vote

  • by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022
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Congressmember Jerrold Nadler introduced the bill in the House to protect marriage rights for same-sex couples. Photo: Courtesy AP
Congressmember Jerrold Nadler introduced the bill in the House to protect marriage rights for same-sex couples. Photo: Courtesy AP

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Tuesday with significant bipartisan support the Respect for Marriage Act, signaling support for ensuring marriage rights for same-sex couples amid fears basic rights are at threat in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. It faces steep odds, however, of being passed out of the U.S. Senate.

Nonetheless, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) Tuesday introduced a companion bill in their chamber. Baldwin, the first out lesbian to serve in the upper chamber of Congress, noted that marriage equality as a constitutional right "has been well established by the Supreme Court as precedent" and should be protected.

"The bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act will enshrine and protect marriage equality and make sure legal, same-sex and interracial marriages are recognized," stated Baldwin. "I take great pride in being a part of this bipartisan effort to protect the progress we have made on marriage equality, because we cannot allow this freedom and right to be denied."

Lawmakers in the House approved the measure, introduced by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), by a 267-157 vote. Congressmember Mondaire Jones (D-New York), a Black lawmaker who one's of nine openly gay or lesbian members of Congress, was among those who spoke on the House floor ahead of the floor and said the vote on the measure was "personal" for him.

"I still remember where I was on June 24, 2011 — the day the New York State Legislature passed marriage equality," Jones said. "I was living with friends in New York City, but I was still closeted, and I was so afraid still that someone might find out the truth about my being gay. So, instead, I closed the door to my room and cried tears of joy by my lonesome. Finally, my home state of New York had recognized me as a full human being. Affirmed all of those scary, yet beautiful, feelings that I had bottled up inside for decades — wondering, hoping, one day the world would change."

A key point of the Democrats' argument for the advancing the Respect for Marriage Act was the concurrence to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision against abortion rights written by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, where he spelled out his inclination to revisit the landmark decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, including the Obergefell v. Hodges decision for same-sex marriage as well as the 2003 decision striking down state sodomy bans in Lawrence v. Texas and the 1965 decision striking down state bans on contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) significantly drew on Thomas' concurrence in her remarks on the House floor in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, saying it was evidence of a greater plot from the Republican Party to undermine the right for same-sex couples to marry.

"We must act now to defend same-sex and interracial marriage from the bigotry and extremism in the wake of the Dobbs decision," Pelosi said. "With marriage rights now squarely in Republican crossfires, Democrats are ferociously fighting back. With a landmark Respect for Marriage Act, we ensure that marriage equality remains the law of the land now and for generations to come."

The Respect for Marriage Act wouldn't keep same-sex marriage the law of the land if the Supreme Court were to strike down Obergefell, per se, but repeal from the books the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court struck down in 2013, and require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. There would be constitutional issues if Congress requires states out-and-out to accommodate same-sex couples in their marriage laws, which have been under the jurisdiction of the states.

"In overturning Roe v. Wade, the conservative Supreme Court majority indicated it is willing to attack other constitutional rights, including same-sex and interracial marriage," noted Feinstein. "In fact, one justice specifically noted that the court's Obergefell decision confirming same-sex marriage should be revisited. Our bill would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and ensure that marriage equality remains the law of the land."

LGBTQ organizations were quick to praise the House vote.

"NCLR applauds the House of Representatives for removing the mean-spirited and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act from our nation's statutes," stated Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. "While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA a decade ago, today's action by the House to repeal it sends a strong message that our nation must move beyond targeting LGBTQ people for political gain. In this moment of political polarization, it is heartening to see bipartisan support for the fundamental principles of equality and security for all families. We urge the Senate to follow suit and swiftly pass the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act and send it to President Biden's desk for his signature."

Prior to the bill's passage in the House, statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California had urged congressmembers to adopt it. In a statement EQCA noted, "The Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs — overturning 50 years of precedent of protecting the right to safe, legal abortion — coupled with Thomas's concurrence calling the future of marriage equality, birth control and private consensual relationships between adults makes clear that we can no longer rely on the highest court to respect its own precedent or protect our civil rights. It's time for Congress and President Biden to repeal the discriminatory so-called Defense of Marriage Act and ensure federal recognition of all marriages in the United States.

The legislation now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it will face an uphill battle in a chamber that requires 60 votes to end a filibuster and advance to a vote on legislation. The office of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) did not immediately respond to the Blade's inquiry Tuesday on when he would schedule a floor vote on the bill.

The Bay Area Reporter contributed additional reporting to this article.

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