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House passes bill protecting marriage equality, with 47 GOP members voting ‘yes’

The House passed a bill on Tuesday to protect marriage equality, a direct response to an opinion from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last month that called for reversing multiple decisions that enshrined LGBTQ rights.

The legislation, titled the Respect for Marriage Act, passed in a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the measure. Seven Republicans did not vote.

The measure, which faces a shaky future in the 50-50 Senate, calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill former President Clinton signed into law in 1996 that recognized marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” The measure referred to the word spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

DOMA had passed through both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act would also require that individuals be considered married if they were wed in a state where marriage was legal. The provision, according to the House Judiciary Committee, ensures that same-sex and interracial couples are treated equally to other married individuals at the federal level.

Additionally, the bill gives the attorney general authority to launch civil action against any individual who violates it and allows any individual to take civil action if their rights as laid out in the bill are breached.

House passage of the bill comes less than one month after the Supreme Court issued a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that protected access to abortion as a constitutional right.

Thomas penned a concurring opinion to the decision that called on the court to reconsider all substantive due process precedents established by the bench, including Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that barred states from outlawing consensual gay sex, and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that made same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

In the majority opinion, however, Justice Samuel Alito said that by striking down Roe, the bench was not calling for reversing other rulings.

House Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act and brought it to the floor for a vote as a preemptive step to protect LGBTQ rights in case the court moves to chip away at the two cases in the future.

Last week, the House cleared two bills to protect access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

During debate on the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the bill, said it would “reaffirm that marriage equality is and must remain the law of the land,” adding that marriage equality “is and should forever be considered settled law.”

He specifically went after Thomas’s concurring opinion.

“Even if we accept the court’s assurance in Dobbs that its decision does not call other rights into question, Congress should provide additional reassurance that marriage equality is a matter of settled law,” Nadler said.

“All married people who are building their lives together must know that the government will respect and recognize their marriages for all time,” he added.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who is openly gay, said the Supreme Court’s potential reversal of LGBTQ rights is “personal,” characterizing Thomas’s opinion as a “heads-up” for what the bench might strike down next.

“The far-right 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court is on a rampage against basic freedoms currently enjoyed by the American people. In his concurring opinion in Dobbs, Justice Clarence Thomas gave us a heads-up that the court is next coming for the ability of same-sex couples to get married. I am one of only nine openly gay members of this body. For me, this is personal,” Jones said.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is also openly gay, discussed his 30-year relationship with his husband when arguing for the bill.

“Today we’re gonna vote for the Respect for Marriage Act to decide and to make clear whether or not we will go back,” he said.

“Whether or not every American, despite their race or their sexuality, has the freedom to marry the person they love. It’s a simple choice, and I know where I stand. And every member of Congress will get to stand and be counted today, and you can choose between between equality or discrimination,” Maloney added.

A number of Republicans, on the other hand, sought to characterize the bill as unwarranted and described the push for the measure as an attempt to delegitimize the Supreme Court.

A senior GOP aide told Axios that House Republican leadership did not advise members of the conference on how to vote, instead telling them to vote their conscience.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, called the bill “completely unnecessary” and said it was the “latest installment” of a campaign by Democrats to “delegitimize and attempt to intimidate the United States Supreme Court.”

The Ohio Republican also cited the majority opinion released by the Supreme Court last month, in which Alito wrote, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right.”

“Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” Alito added.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), a constitutional law attorney, said the legislation was “fearmongering,” reading Alito’s assurance in the majority opinion.

“We live in an extraordinarily divided time, and reopening this policy, which is under no threat of any legislative or judicial body anywhere, seems more like an attempt by Democrats to stoke fear before the November elections rather than bring the country together,” Johnson said.

Nadler did, however, characterize the legislation as “unnecessary but harmless” if the Supreme Court does not reverse precedents protecting LGBTQ rights.

Updated at 6:23 p.m.

Tags Clarence Thomas Clinton Defense of Marriage Act DOMA Gay Marriage Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler marriage equality Mondaire Jones Respect for Marriage Act Same-sex marriage Samuel Alito Sean Patrick Maloney
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