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House Votes to Protect Same-Sex Marriage; Senate Action in Doubt

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The House passed a bill that would recognize same-sex marriages under federal law and extend legal protections to all married couples, a reaction to concern that the Supreme Court might reconsider a ruling extending those rights.

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The House’s 267-157 vote on the bill included 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in support. The legislation faces long odds in the evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass most legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage under federal law as between a man and a woman. This allowed states to not recognize marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in another state and denied these couples federal protections and benefits.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government cannot discriminate against married same-sex couples when determining benefits and protections. And the court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges determined that state bans and refusal to recognize same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

But some Democrats raised concerns that the current conservative-leaning Supreme Court could overturn the 2015 ruling after it overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion.

In his concurring opinion on the Dobbs case, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court should review other “due process precedents” including the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Justice Thomas, as I’ve said many times before, right here in this briefing room, as the president has said explicitly, in his concurring opinion said he was very clear about this” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “So we need this legislation and urge Congress to move as quickly as possible.”

Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said the Supreme Court would not step in and overturn the Obergefell decision.

“This bill is simply the latest installment of the Democrats’ campaign to delegitimize and attempt to intimidate the United States Supreme Court,” Jordan said.

Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and one of the few openly gay members of Congress, said in response to Jordan’s speech that Congress must codify marriage equality for the LGBTQ families who are worried that it might be taken away.

“If it’s not necessary, then vote for it,” Cicilline said in response to Jordan. “If you’re right that we’re worried and we shouldn’t be, then reaffirm it. But don’t hide behind that to justify your refusal to vote for marriage equality.”

The House-passed bill would federally recognize same-sex marriages and prohibit states from denying benefits to out-of-state marriages based on the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the individuals.

It also would give the Justice Department the ability to enforce the law and allows individuals whose rights are violated under the provision to take up civil action.

The bill was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler and Cicilline.

The Senate version was introduced by Democrats Tammy Baldwin and Dianne Feinstein and Republican Susan Collins.

“We welcome today’s House passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, a critical step to enshrine existing protections for LGBTQ couples and families, as well as interracial couples, Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of Glaad, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement. She urged the Senate “to take swift action” to pass the legislation.

(Updates with Glaad statement, in final paragraph.)

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