The House on Tuesday passed laws to codify same-sex marriage nationwide and strengthen other marriage-equality protections, in a direct response to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that overturned long-standing federal abortion rights.
The bill, which passed 267-157, was expected to make it through the Democrat majority of the House. However it faces an uncertain future within the Senate, where passage would require not less than 10 Republican votes.
Forty-seven Republicans voted for the bill alongside all Democrats. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., the primary openly gay Afro-Latino member of Congress, presided over the vote.
The Respect for Marriage Act would establish that a wedding is taken into account valid under federal law if it was legal within the state where it was performed. The bill would explicitly bar anyone from denying “full faith and credit” to an out-of-state marriage based on sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, no matter any individual state’s law. It will grant the U.S. attorney general the authority to implement that rule through civil motion.
LGBTQ activists and supporters hold a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court because it hears arguments in a significant LGBT rights case on whether a federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination on the premise of sex covers gay and transgender employees in Washington, October 8, 2019.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
It will also fully repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, often known as DOMA, the 1996 law signed by then-President Bill Clinton that defined marriage as being the union of a person and a lady.
The Supreme Court gutted DOMA through its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor. Two years later, the court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Structure guarantees same-sex marriage rights. Though defanged, DOMA technically stays a law, and the House now goals to clean it from the books entirely.
But to make it to President Joe Biden’s desk, the bill might want to survive the Senate, where the parties are split 50-50 and 60 votes are required for many laws to pass. Many conservatives within the chamber will likely argue states should determine their very own same-sex marriage laws.
“Today’s vote was about protecting the youngsters and loving families whose whole lives depend on the constitutional guarantee of marriage equality,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a press release following the passage of the bill, which he sponsored.
Lawmakers are also expected this week to vote on a bill enshrining the proper to contraception — one other push to guard rights spurred by the court’s major decision last month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling struck down the legal precedents that had protected abortion rights for nearly 50 years.
The conservative majority, which incorporates three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump, argued partly in its ruling that “the Structure makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”
That legal reasoning sparked widespread fears that the court could threaten other rights previously considered settled.
A concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas amplified those concerns. The justice argued that the ruling in Dobbs should lead the court to reconsider the landmark cases establishing the rights to acquire contraception, engage in private sex acts and marry someone of the identical sex.
“I first filed the Respect for Marriage Act over a decade ago. Since then, the fight for marriage equality has seen many highs and lows, but perhaps none more frightening than the present threat posed by Clarence Thomas and this conservative Supreme Court,” Nadler said in his statement Tuesday afternoon.
“I hope that my colleagues within the Senate will take up this bipartisan bill directly and supply much needed stability and certainty for the families which were shaken to their core by Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson,” Nadler’s statement said.
Other justices didn’t echo Thomas’ opinion. However it raised concerns that the court, which now has a 6-to-3 conservative majority, could be willing to take up cases difficult those rights in the longer term.
Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote for almost all within the Dobbs decision, stressed, “Nothing on this opinion ought to be understood to solid doubt on precedents that don’t concern abortion.”
But critics, including the court’s three liberal justices, were unconvinced.
“We cannot understand how anyone might be confident that today’s opinion shall be the last of its kind,” the liberals wrote in a fierce dissent in Dobbs.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Unwell., said Monday that he believes the bills protecting same-sex marriage and contraception can overcome the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle, NBC News reported. Some Republican senators gave noncommittal answers when asked by NBC in the event that they would vote for the laws.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, meanwhile, said Sunday that the high court’s ruling to enshrine same-sex marriage was “clearly flawed.”
The Biden administration strongly endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
“No one should face discrimination due to who they’re or whom they love, and each married couple in america deserves the safety of knowing that their marriage shall be defended and revered,” the administration said in an official policy statement.