House to vote Tuesday on bill to protect same-sex marriages

It comes after a Supreme Court ruling raising questions about privacy rights.

July 18, 2022, 4:38 PM

The House is set to vote on a bill Tuesday that would codify recognition of same-sex marriage into federal law -- the move coming in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month, after which Justice Clarence Thomas announced the court should "reconsider" its past rulings on rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.

Thomas, in his concurrence to Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the decision that struck down Roe v. Wade, wrote that the Supreme Court should reconsider decisions involving a constitutional right to privacy that guarantees fundamental rights -- including same-sex marriage and access to contraception.

His opinion sparked alarm among activists and Democratic lawmakers.

In response, a bipartisan group of House members and senators on Monday introduced a bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would enshrine marriage equality for the purposes of federal law and provide additional legal protections for marriage equality.

"The Supreme Court's extremist and precedent-ignoring decision in Dobbs v. Jackson has shown us why it is critical to ensure that federal law protects those whose constitutional rights might be threatened by Republican-controlled state legislatures," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement Monday.

"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, should the Court act on Justice Thomas' draconian suggestion that the 2013 United States v. Windsor and 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges rulings be reconsidered or if it were to overturn Loving v. Virginia," Hoyer said.

Plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case Jim Obergefell speaks during a rally, Oct. 4, 2016 in Washington, DC.
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The Respect for Marriage Act would officially repeal the Defense Against Marriage Act, which specifically defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman and allowed individual states to not recognize same-sex marriage that were recognized under other states' laws.

The law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in cases as recently as 2013 and 2015, but it remains "on the books," Democrats have said. The House bill would repeal the statute once and for all.

The bill also requires, for federal law purposes, that an individual be considered married if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed, which would give same sex and interracial couples additional certainty that they will "continue to enjoy equal treatment under federal law as all other married couples."

An abortion rights demonstrator waves a Pride flag during a rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 25, 2022.
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The bill also prohibits any person acting under color of state law from denying full faith and credit to an out-of-state marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the individuals in the marriage, provides the attorney general with the authority to pursue enforcement actions and creates a private right of action for any individual harmed by a violation of this provision.

"Maine voters legalized same-sex marriages in our state nearly a decade ago, and since Obergefell, all Americans have had the right to marry the person whom they love," Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said in a statement. "During my time in the Senate, I have been proud to support legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, from strengthening hate crime prevention laws, to repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' to ensuring workplace equality. This bill is another step to promote equality, prevent discrimination, and protect the rights of all Americans."

The bill is expected to pass along party lines in the House on Tuesday. It's unclear, at this point, how many Republicans will vote with Democrats on the bill.

Later this week, the House is also set to vote on a bill that would protect a person's ability to access contraceptives and to engage in contraception, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.

The votes this week come after the House passed two bills related to abortion access on Friday.

It's unclear if the Senate will take any of the bills up for consideration ahead of the planned August recess at the end of this month.

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