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House passes landmark legislation to protect same-sex, interracial marriages

The House on Thursday passed landmark legislation that would enshrine marriage equality in federal law, granting protections to same-sex and interracial couples and clearing the way for President Biden’s signature.

“I find it deeply poignant that, as we prepare to bring the 117th Congress to a close, we are on the cusp of a great bipartisan moral victory in defense of a fundamental right of all Americans,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on the House floor. “A victory that will provide stability and reassurance to the millions of LGBTQ and interracial families that have come to rely on the constitutional right to marry.”

The House had already passed an earlier version of the Respect for Marriage Act in July, but the Senate delayed its vote on the bill until after the midterm elections. Late last month, the Senate passed the bill with a bipartisan amendment to allay some Republicans’ concerns about religious liberty. The amended bill passed the Senate in a 61-36 vote, with 12 Republican senators joining Democrats in favor of it.

In a 258-169 vote, the House on Thursday passed the bill with the amendment, which clarifies that the federal government would not be authorized to recognize polygamous marriages and confirms that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” Thirty-nine Republicans joined all Democrats in supporting the measure.

The bill will now head to Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Biden has said that ensuring federal protections for marriage equality is among his legislative priorities in the lame-duck session.

“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,” Biden said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate. “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled.”

The vote underscores a nearly three-decade evolution, from 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed legislation that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, to the 2004 election when President George W. Bush used the issue to energize GOP voters, to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

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Same-sex marriage bill
What is the Respect for Marriage Act?
The Respect for Marriage Act, which is awaiting Biden’s signature, would not force states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but would require that people be considered married in any state as long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed.
The Senate vote
A bipartisan group of senators, including 12 Republicans voted for the same-sex marriage bill. Here’s a list of which senators voted for and against the measure and a look behind the effort to get it passed in the Senate.

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The Respect for Marriage Act would not force states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but would require that people be considered married in any state as long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed.

The bill also would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. In addition to defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it allowed states to decline to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That law has remained on the books despite being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor and its 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.

On the House floor Thursday and in a guest op-ed for The Washington Post, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recalled how, in her first speech on the House floor in 1987, she declared that “we must take leadership of course in the crisis of AIDS.”

“Just as I began my career fighting for LGBTQ communities, I am overjoyed that one of the final bills I will sign as speaker will be the Respect for Marriage Act: ensuring the federal government will never again stand in the way of marrying the person you love,” Pelosi wrote.

Democrats have warned since June that federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, as well as other rights, could be at risk after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had guaranteed the right to an abortion in the United States.

In his June concurrence with the decision to overturn Roe, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the high court should also examine previous rulings that legalized the right to buy and use contraception without government restriction (Griswold v. Connecticut), same-sex relationships (Lawrence v. Texas) and marriage equality (Obergefell v. Hodges).

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous’ … we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

Thomas’s opinion set off alarm bells among proponents of marriage equality, who pointed out that if the Supreme Court were to overturn Obergefell, as it did Roe, then the right to same-sex marriage would similarly fall to the states. Currently, 35 states have statutes or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage that would take effect if Obergefell were overturned, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ equality.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who was the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress, said Thursday that the fight for LGBTQ equality was a “critical and personal focus” of his.

“This bill will pass today, but as a reminder of the necessity of our vigilance in the fight for human rights and the need to hold the judicial branch accountable,” Takano said on the House floor. “We must rise to the challenge and we will prevail.”

Republicans who opposed the bill decried it Thursday as an affront to “biblical” definitions of marriage. Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) warned without evidence that it could lead to the legality of “polygamy, bestiality, child marriage, or whatever!” in the future.

GOP lawmakers also downplayed the threat to marriage equality and said the bill was unnecessary, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion rights.

“The Democrats want Americans to believe that the Supreme Court, at any moment … could step in and overturn its opinions in Obergefell and Loving. It’s just not true. The Supreme Court is not poised to overturn its opinions in either of those decisions,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on the House floor.

Six Republican lawmakers voted no Thursday after supporting the bill in July. Two GOP lawmakers — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) switched from no to yes. One member, Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), supported the bill in July but voted present on Thursday.

“The first version also didn’t have the religious freedom language, which was key,” Gallagher said after the vote, explaining his switch.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), who switched from a yes to a no vote, said his objections this time were mostly about the process by which the bill was returned to the House. In July, when he supported the bill, Mast told The Post that he “wasn’t going to get mixed up in the politics of it.”

“I could give a rat’s caboose who somebody marries, relates with, falls in love with, anything else as a piece of it, their gender or anything else,” he said then.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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