The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved a marriage equality bill Thursday that would ensure same-sex and interracial couples continue holding many of the rights they have now, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the cases that established those constitutional protections.
The measure now heads to the desk of President Joe Biden, who plans to sign it.
The 258-169-1 vote included the backing of 39 Republicans, though many GOP lawmakers argued during debate there was no reason to pass the legislation since the justices have not agreed to take up any cases that would end legal marriages for interracial or same-sex couples.
Democrats countered the legislation is essential to assure Americans that should the conservative-leaning court take up such a case in the future, as it did with abortion rights, same-sex and interracial marriages will still be recognized federally.
They also said religious liberty protections added in the Senate should assuage concerns about potential impacts on people and organizations.
“I’m standing here today because in the year 2022, families like mine are once again concerned that an activist out-of-step Supreme Court is going to take those rights away,” Minnesota Democratic Rep. Angie Craig said during floor debate.
Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan argued that his marriage to his husband, Phil, shouldn’t be any different from any other marriages when it comes to taxes, visiting a spouse in the hospital, Social Security benefits, or retirement.
Pocan urged his colleagues, including Republicans, to back the bill, saying “it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
He later added that he was sure “no one here would intend to discriminate against me and my spouse, as I would never against you and yours.”
Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Good spoke out against the U.S. House passing the bill, saying the legislation did not comply with his religious views on marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Good argued the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide was incorrect, saying the justices were “overriding the will of the people and their elected representatives.”
Repeal of Defense of Marriage Act
The bill approved Thursday by the U.S. House would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The law also allowed states to ignore legal same-sex marriages that were performed in states where the unions were legal.
The current measure would ensure that if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the cases that legalized same-sex and interracial marriages, the federal government would continue recognizing those unions. It would also require states to recognize legal same-sex or interracial marriages between two people performed out-of-state.
The U.S. House voted 267-157 in July to approve the original version of the bill with 47 GOP lawmakers supporting the measure.
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators — Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat; Susan Collins, a Maine Republican; Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican; Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat; and Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican — then began working behind the scenes to add religious liberty protections into the bill and to get the backing of at least 10 Republicans to clear that chamber’s legislative filibuster.
After a few months of negotiations, senators voted 61-36 in late November to send the measure back to the House for final approval.
Following Senate passage of the bill, Biden said in a written statement that “the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love.”
“For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled,” Biden wrote. “It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”
In a statement Thursday, Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree echoed that message.
“Today was a historic day in Washington. A decade ago, bipartisan support for marriage equality would have been unfathomable. But today, in the face of brazen and continued threats to Americans’ civil liberties from a deeply polarizing and bigoted Supreme Court, my Congressional colleagues and I – from both sides of the aisle – took action to ensure that everyone, regardless of their race or sexual orientation, has the right to marry the person they love,” said Pingree.
“I proudly cast my vote today for the Respect for Marriage Act so that same-sex and interracial couples in Maine don’t have to live in fear that a future Supreme Court decision could invalidate their marriages,” she continued. “With passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, Congress has sent a clear message: love wins.”