The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday, 258-169, that would codify same-sex marriage protections into law, despite opposition from most GOP lawmakers who argue the bill’s language infringes on religious freedoms. The bill will now be sent to President Biden for signature.
House Democrats supported — with the help of some Republicans — the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the Defense of Marriage Act that legally defined marriage as between one man and one woman and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week the chamber would vote on the bill on Tuesday, but amid a busy lame-duck session before the end of the year, lawmakers delayed the vote until Thursday.
The bill would not force states to allow same-sex couples to marry under the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision. It would, however, make it so that any “person acting under color of State law” fully recognizes marriage between two people in another state and that the federal government must recognize marriages if they were valid in the state where the marriage occurred.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said when the lower chamber passed a previous bill version, “it is critical to ensure that federal law protects those whose constitutional rights might be threatened by Republican-controlled state legislatures.”
“LGBTQ Americans and those in interracial marriages deserve to have certainty that they will continue to have their right to equal marriage recognized, no matter where they live,” Hoyer said.
The vote comes after U.S. senators advanced landmark legislation, which also codifies federal protections for interracial marriages last week, 61-36, after Senate Democrats worked to garner 10 GOP votes — enough to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called on his Republican colleagues in favor of the legislation to include protections for anyone with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage belongs to one man and one woman.
Lee introduced an amendment prohibiting federal bureaucrats from discriminating against individuals, organizations, and other religious entities by stripping away tax-exempt status, licenses, contracts, or other benefits.
“Instead of subjecting churches, religious nonprofits, and persons of conscience to undue scrutiny or punishment by the federal government because of their views on marriage, we should make explicitly clear that this legislation does not constitute a national policy endorsing a particular view of marriage that threatens the tax-exempt status of faith-based nonprofits,” he wrote. “As we move forward, let us be sure to keep churches, religious charities, and religious universities out of litigation in the first instance.”
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted in favor of the bill, said it would not affect the rights of private individuals or businesses already protected by the law.
“This legislation provides important protections for religious liberty — measures which are particularly important to protect the religious freedoms of our faith-based institutions,” Romney said in a statement. “While I believe in traditional marriage, Obergefell is and has been the law of the land upon which LGBTQ individuals have relied. This legislation provides certainty to many LGBTQ Americans, and it signals that Congress — and I — esteem and love all of our fellow Americans equally.”
The bill now goes to the desk of President Joe Biden, who has pledged to sign it into law.