WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Thursday enshrining federal protections for marriages of same-sex and interracial couples.
The vote of 258-169 sends the Respect for Marriage Act to President Joe Biden, who praised Congress for passing the bill and is expected to sign it into law. It comes after the Senate passed the same bill last week by a vote of 61 to 36.
Democrats voted unanimously in favor of the bill, while most Republicans in both chambers voted against it. Thirty-nine House Republicans supported the legislation on Thursday, with one voting present.
“Your love is your choice,” Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Majority Leader of the House, said on the floor Thursday, saying there is “no reason” to believe that Republican Supreme Court appointees won’t run again. want to look at precedents on LGBTQ rights after overturning Roe v. Wade. “The pursuit of happiness means you can love whomever you choose.”
“I’m shocked that conservatives with a libertarian bent believe we should somehow get involved in this,” he said. “It’s not the government’s business.”
The legislation — led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay person elected to the Senate — would see the federal government recognize marriages that are validly consummated and guarantee full benefits “regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or national origin.” However, it would not require states to issue marriage licenses that violate state law.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was on hand to knock down the vote and announce the passage of the bill. Loud applause erupted from the Democratic side of the room, with some Republicans applauding.
The bill was amended in response to Senate GOP demands. It clarified that religious organizations will not be forced to perform same-sex marriages and that the government will not be forced to protect polygamous marriages.
The bill’s revisions forced the House to vote again after passing an earlier version in July.
Former Representative Barney Frank, D-Mass., the first openly gay member of Congress, attended the vote at the Capitol.
“It’s a sign of massive political change in America,” he told NBC News. “And it makes sense to people. It is real. It is not a symbolic gesture. I know many married gays and lesbians who have been concerned since Clarence Thomas said what he said. So this is also reassuring for them.”
The legislation’s approval comes amid fears that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority would review same-sex marriage law after it repealed abortion rights. It reflects rapidly growing US public support for legal same-sex marriage, which reached a new high of 71% in June, according to Gallup tracks polls – up from 27% in 1996.
“Following the uncertainty caused by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, Congress has restored a degree of security to millions of marriages and families,” Biden said in a statement. “They have also brought hope and dignity to millions of young people in this country who can grow up knowing that their government will recognize and respect the families they build.”
The president also thanked members of both parties who supported the bill, saying, “We have shown that it is possible for Democrats and Republicans to come together to protect our most fundamental rights.”
In the Senate, 12 Republicans voted with unanimous Democrats to pass the bill, which sent it back to the House. The GOP advocates formed an eclectic group, including retired Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Richard Burr of North Carolina; centrist dealmakers like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina; a leadership member in Iowa Senator Joni Ernst; and Conservative Senator Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.
Fewer Republicans voted for the bill in the House on Thursday than supported the earlier version. Seven GOP members who voted yes in July opposed Thursday’s bill: Representatives Cliff Bentz of Oregon; Mario Diaz Balart, Brian Mast and Maria Salazar of Florida; Dan Meuser and Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania; and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. Another, Burgess Owens of Utah, voted “present” on Thursday after backing the bill in July. Two other Republicans — Representatives Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington — went the other way, supporting the bill on Thursday after voting against the earlier version.
Frank, who attended a signing ceremony with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, reflected in an interview Thursday on the passing of the bill, 26 years after the Defense of Marriage Act banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“I was here before the birth of DOMA. And this is a case where the funeral is a much happier event,” he said.