Respect Equality

Openly LGBTQ members of Congress celebrate passage of Respect for Marriage Act, say there’s more work to do

“I’m humbled. I’m honored. And I’m hopeful—as the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continues.”
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, a person waves a rainbow flag as they participant in a rally in support of the LGBTQIA+ community at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Openly LGBTQ members of Congress on Thursday celebrated the historic passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, praising the measure to enshrine same-sex and interracial marriage into federal law as a triumph for equality while acknowledging that there’s still more to be done.

“Voting to pass the Respect for Marriage Act today is one of the proudest votes I’ve ever cast,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) wrote Thursday on Twitter. “I’m humbled. I’m honored. And I’m hopeful—as the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continues.”

“Being gay is normal. Gay friends, gay family members, and gay marriages are normal,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), one of two openly LGBTQ senators, tweeted Thursday following the House vote. “Our Respect for Marriage Act now heads to the President’s desk — ensuring same-sex married couples enjoy the same protections as all other married couples. It’s a great day in America.”

The Respect for Marriage Act, which President Biden has pledged to “swiftly” sign into law, will officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between one man and one woman — and require all states to recognize legal same-sex and interracial unions.

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The bill cleared its final congressional hurdle Thursday, passing the House in a 258-169 vote. House members passed an earlier version of the measure in July but needed to approve new religious liberty protections added by Senate Republicans.

“As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I never expected to be able to live as my authentic self,” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) told Changing America in a Thursday phone call. “It’s a remarkable day and an important moment to correct an injustice from the past. I think it should be a signal to all Americans that you’re seen, you’re respected and you should be able to be yourself.”

“We are the ‘Live Free or Die’ state after all, and people take their personal freedoms very seriously,” Pappas said. “But we’re also a state where people respect their neighbors and embrace people’s differences.”

Same-sex marriages were legalized by state supreme court decisions beginning in 2004 in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. In 2009, New Hampshire and Vermont became the first states to legalize same-sex marriages by way of their legislatures. And in 2015, the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling enshrined marriage equality as a federal right.

LGBTQ lawmakers acknowledged, however, that the Respect for Marriage Act only does so much, and further action is needed to guarantee equal rights for LGBTQ Americans and prevent the Supreme Court from restarting hard-won battles.

“We need to harness this momentum and work towards full equality for LGBTQ+ people in all areas of life, including by passing the Equality Act into law,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said Thursday in a statement, referring to the House-passed measure to expand the definition of discrimination in existing federal civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“As the first openly gay member of color elected in history, enactment of the Respect for Marriage Act means the world to me, to my loved ones, and to millions of Americans,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said Thursday. “Yet we cannot rest — the necessity of this legislation in response to extreme Supreme Court action is a stark call for our vigilance in the fight for human rights.”

Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) in a tweet prior to Thursday’s vote celebrated the historic nature of the bill, but she expressed some disappointment that the right of same-sex couples to be married was something that needed to be legislated at all.

“I can’t believe we have to do that in 2022, but here we are,” she wrote. “I will vote to keep my family and families like ours recognized under the law in every state no matter what happens in the courts.”