The U.S. House of Representatives sent a bill that codified the federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriage to the desk of President Joe Biden on Thursday.
The Respect For Marriage Act marks Congress’ first successful legislative response to this summer’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision from the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade and repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that established a federal definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Specifically, the bill replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage between two individuals that is valid under state law. (The Supreme Court held that the current provisions were unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor in 2013.)
The bill also replaces provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with provisions that prohibit the denial of full faith and credit or any right or claim relating to out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. (The Supreme Court held that state laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015; the Court held that state laws barring interracial marriages were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.) The bill allows the Department of Justice to bring a civil action and establishes a private right of action for violations.
The bill does not (1) affect religious liberties or conscience protections that are available under the Constitution or federal law, (2) require religious organizations to provide goods or services to formally recognize or celebrate a marriage, (3) affect any benefits or rights that do not arise from a marriage, or (4) recognize under federal law any marriage between more than two individuals.
The Pennsylvania House delegation voted in favor of the Act, 10-8. A pair of Republicans – Dan Meuser (R-Luzerne) and Scott Perry (R-Cumberland/Dauphin/York) – switched their votes from July from “yes” to “no” – along with five other GOP members.
“This bill goes beyond marriage & weakens the religious freedoms fundamental to our nation,” tweeted Meuser. “What will be affected by the passage of this bill are the religious freedoms and protections of Americans. Therefore, I can’t support the Senate Amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act.”
Democrat Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester), a member of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, shared a letter she penned to her daughter after voting for the Act.
“To my Molly,
When we decided as a family to run for Congress, and when you were so generous to allow me to share your story publicly, I promised you I’d do something good with that generosity to help the entire LGBTQ+ community. I am so proud to be able to join so many of my colleagues today to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, so you and your Kristen, and so many others, can be free to love who you love.
A promise made.
A promise proudly kept.
Next stop, the President’s desk.”
“I am proud of my vote to protect the right to marriage equality—a right is not a right unless it is equally exercised by all,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Lehigh) in a statement. “We cannot allow families who depend on the rights and privileges secured by the guarantee of marriage equality to wonder if one day they will wake up in a nation that no longer recognizes their marriage, as many have since Justice Clarence Thomas called for the court to reconsider the Obergefell decision. Now, they will not have to worry.”
“Individuals have the freedom and the right to choose who to grow old with in life,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Centre). “However, the bill lacks the appropriate constitutional protections for religious liberties enshrined in the First Amendment.”
U.S. House (passed 258-169-1)
YEA (10) – Boyle, Cartwright, Dean, Doyle, Evans, Fitzpatrick, Houlahan, Lamb, Scanlon, Wild.
NO (8) – Joyce, Keller, Kelly, Meuser, Perry, Reschenthaler, Smucker, Thompson.
U.S. Senate (passed 61-36)
YEA – Casey.
NOT VOTING – Toomey.