House passes same-sex-marriage protections, citing threat from Roe decision

·4-min read

WASHINGTON — House Democrats and a sizable group of Republicans voted Tuesday in favor of protecting same-sex marriage from being overturned by the Supreme Court.

The House voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, 267-157, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats. The bill would codify same-sex marriage into federal law and bolster other marriage protections, and came in response to fears that the Supreme Court may strike down such protections after overturning in June the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion.

The bill would also formally repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The measure is widely expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans hold 50 seats apiece.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stands at a podium at an event on protecting women’s reproductive freedom.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at a press event on reproductive rights in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 15. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, in which he argued that same-sex marriage and access to contraception were also not inherently protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“Make no mistake, while his legal reasoning is twisted, and unsound, it is crucial that we take Justice Thomas and the extremist movement behind him at their word. This is what they intend to do,” Pelosi said.

But House Republicans, who spent much of the debate arguing on items other than marriage itself, called the vote a last-minute political ploy by Democrats to gin up support from their voters ahead of the November midterm elections.

“We’re debating this bill today because it is July in an election year, and inflation is at a level not seen in 40 years,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is expected to head the House Judiciary Committee if Republicans retake control of the House in November.

In response to a question Tuesday about the legislation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing that President Biden “strongly supports the bill. He’s grateful that this has bipartisan support in the House.”

She added that “the exact reason for why this bill is being voted on is because of Republicans’ assault on the recognition of Americans’ right to privacy, which has been recognized and upheld over decades by judges appointed by a wide range of presidents — that puts us here. That is why the House had to vote for this bill, so that we can protect people’s rights because of what we have seen this past several weeks.”

A crowd of abortion rights activists marches. One protester holds a sign reading: You will never have the comfort of my silence.
Protesters march to the White House to denounce the Supreme Court decision to end federal abortion rights protections on July 9. (Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A handful of hard-right lawmakers have called for ending the same-sex-marriage protections derived from the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and a possible White House candidate, said last weekend the decision was “clearly wrong.”

But other Republicans tamped down that talk, citing Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in which he wrote that ending abortion protections should not be viewed as setting precedent for upending other rights.

House lawmakers debated passionately for close to an hour, but top House Republicans — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his top deputies — were absent from the debate Tuesday.

In a rare move, McCarthy and other top Republicans decided not to press their members — or “whip” the vote — to vote against the marriage protections, Punchbowl News reported Tuesday.

Public attitudes on same-sex marriage have shifted dramatically in recent years. A decade ago, the issue divided Democrats, who were apprehensive about being seen as too liberal. But now 70% of the broader public supports same-sex-marriage rights, according to the most recent Gallup poll on the issue.

The surprise vote Tuesday comes as Pelosi has promised to hold a series of votes on hot-button issues that Thomas indicated could be decided by the court.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at a podium.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C, in 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In his concurring opinion, Thomas did not mention the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, which legalized interracial marriage decades ago. But others, including actor Samuel L. Jackson, have questioned whether that right could be overturned as well.

“He didn’t mention interracial marriage, but it’s on the same theory,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “Of course he’s involved in an interracial marriage; he wouldn’t be married to [Ginni Thomas] but for that Loving decision.”

But even that issue has garnered a surprising amount of attention recently. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said in March that interracial marriage should be decided by each state. Following an uproar, he later explained that he did not want to ban interracial marriage.