House passes Respect for Marriage Act 267-157, with 47 Republican votes

In the wake of the controversial Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade in which Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the right to same-sex marriage should also be reversed, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19 to codify the right to same-sex marriage. 

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y), a long-time supporter of LGBTQ civil rights, initiated the bill, saying it “would reaffirm that marriage equality is and must remain the law of the land.”

Nadler continued, “Congress should provide additional reassurance that marriage equality is a matter of settled law. All married people building their lives together must know that the government must respect and recognize their marriage for all-time.”

The Respect For Marriage Act would prevent state discrimination related to marriage based on “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” It would also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The final vote was 267-157. All 220 Democrats voted for the bill and were joined by 47 Republicans. Applause, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, overwhelmed the room as the final vote tally was read.

Notable among Republicans voting for the bill was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who currently is Vice-Chair of the January 6th Committee. Cheney, whose sister is a lesbian, has voted against the Equality Act twice. In 2021, Cheney changed her stance on marriage equality, saying simply, “I was wrong.” 

Three Pennsylvania Republicans voted for the bill: Brian Fitzpatrick, Dan Meuser and Scott Perry. Fitzpatrick has previously voted for the Equality Act twice. Adam Kinzinger (IL), the only other GOP on the January 6th Committee, also voted for the bill.

Among those voting against the bipartisan bill was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is expected to be elected Speaker should the GOP win midterms. 

In response to the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison issued the following statement:

“The Defense of Marriage Act – which shamefully excluded legally married same-sex couples from accessing the federal rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage – is a black mark upon our nation that needs to be erased from our code of law. The Respect for Marriage Act is an opportunity to right this legislative wrong by replacing this black mark with an inclusive law that standardizes the mechanism for evaluating when a marriage should be given federal recognition and which affirms that public acts, records, and judicial proceedings should be honored across this country.” 

Madison said, “The fact that this bill passed with strong bipartisan support – earning the votes of 47 Republicans, proves that marriage equality is supported by a wide swath of the American people, and is not going anywhere. We strongly urge the Senate to follow the example set by their colleagues in the House and vote to pass this bill.”

Key provisions of the bill include repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996 and never repealed. The Supreme Court’s 2013 Windsor v. United States ruling and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision made DOMA moot, but it remained on the books.

The Respect for Marriage Act would also affirm that public acts, records and proceedings should be recognized by all states. Adoption orders, divorce decrees, and other public acts must be honored by all states consistent with the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The bill codifies all federal protections held in the Obergefell and Windsor Supreme Court rulings.

HRC notes that “Support for same-sex marriage has increased by 14 percentage points since 2014 (54%). Republicans are now nearly evenly divided over same-sex marriage (48% support, 50% oppose), while 81% of Democrats and 73% of independents favor marriage equality. Today, majorities of most religious groups favor marriage equality. White evangelical Protestants (35%) and Latter-day Saints (46%) remain the only major religious groups with less than majority support for same-sex marriage.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed a Senate version of the legislation. The bill is not expected to garner the 10 Senate GOP votes necessary for it to pass.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.