Congress Passes Same-Sex Union Bill 12/09 06:02
The House gave final approval Thursday to legislation protecting same-sex
marriages, a monumental step in a decadeslong battle for nationwide recognition
that reflects a stark turnaround in societal attitudes.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House gave final approval Thursday to legislation
protecting same-sex marriages, a monumental step in a decadeslong battle for
nationwide recognition that reflects a stark turnaround in societal attitudes.
President Joe Biden has said he will promptly sign the measure, which
requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages. It is a relief for
hundreds of thousands of couples who have married since the Supreme Court's
2015 decision that legalized those marriages and have worried about what would
happen if the ruling were overturned.
In a statement after the vote, Biden called the legislation a "critical step
to ensure that Americans have the right to marry the person they love." He said
the legislation provides "hope and dignity to millions of young people across
this country who can grow up knowing that their government will recognize and
respect the families they build."
The bipartisan legislation, which passed 258-169 with 39 Republican votes,
would also protect interracial unions by requiring states to recognize legal
marriages regardless of "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin." After
months of negotiations, the Senate passed the bill last week with 12 Republican
Democrats moved the bill quickly through the House and Senate after the
Supreme Court's decision in June that overturned the federal right to an
abortion -- including a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that
suggested the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage
could also be reconsidered.
While many Republicans predicted that was unlikely to happen, and said the
bill was unnecessary, Democrats and GOP supporters of the bill said it
shouldn't be left to chance.
"We need it," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who presided over the vote as
one of her last acts in leadership before stepping aside in January. "It is
The bill is "a glorious triumph of love and freedom," Pelosi said, tearing
up as she celebrated its passage.
In debate before the vote, several gay members of Congress talked about what
a federal law would mean for them and their families. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.,
said he and his husband should be able to visit each other in the hospital just
like any other married couple and receive spousal benefits "regardless of if
your spouse's name is Samuel or Samantha."
Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., said he was set to marry "the love of my life"
next year and it is "unthinkable" that his marriage might not be recognized in
some states if Obergefell were to be overturned.
"The idea of marriage equality used to be a far-fetched idea," said Rep.
David Cicilline, D-R.I. "Now it's the law of the land and supported by the vast
majority of Americans."
The legislation lost some Republican support since July, when 47 Republicans
voted for it -- a robust and unexpected show of support that kick-started
serious negotiations in the Senate. But most of those lawmakers held firm, with
a cross section of the party, from conservatives to moderates, voting for the
bill. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy voted against it.
"To me this is really just standing with the Constitution," said Republican
Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, who voted for the bill both times. She pushed back
on GOP arguments that it would affect the religious rights of those who don't
believe in same-sex marriage.
"No one's religious liberties are affected in any way, shape or form,"
Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said he was "proud to once again vote
in favor of protecting our LGBTQ and religious friends and neighbors." He
praised Senate changes to the bill ensuring that it would not affect current
rights of religious institutions and groups.
"Civil rights are not a finite resource, we do not have to take from one
group to give to another," Stewart said.
The legislation would not require states to allow same-sex couples to marry,
as Obergefell now does. But it would require states to recognize all marriages
that were legal where they were performed and protect current same-sex unions
if the Supreme Court decision were overturned.
While it's not everything advocates may have wanted, passage of the
legislation represents a watershed moment. Just a decade ago, many Republicans
openly campaigned on blocking same-sex marriages; today more than two-thirds of
the public support them.
Still, most Republicans opposed the legislation and some conservative
advocacy groups lobbied aggressively against it in recent weeks, arguing that
it doesn't do enough to protect those who want to refuse services for same-sex
"God's perfect design is indeed marriage between one man and one woman for
life," said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va, before the vote. "And it doesn't matter what
you think or what I think, that's what the Bible says."
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., choked up as she begged colleagues to vote
against the bill, which she said undermines "natural marriage" between a man
and a woman.
"I'll tell you my priorities," Hartzler said. "Protect religious liberty,
protect people of faith and protect Americans who believe in the true meaning
Democrats in the Senate, led by Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin and Arizona's
Kyrsten Sinema, worked with supportive Republican senators to address those GOP
concerns by negotiating changes to clarify that the legislation does not impair
the rights of private individuals or businesses. The amended bill would also
make clear that a marriage is between two people, an effort to ward off some
far-right criticism that the legislation could endorse polygamy.
In the end, several religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, came out in support of the bill. The Mormon church said
it would support rights for same-sex couples as long as they didn't infringe
upon religious groups' right to believe as they choose.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who led negotiations with Baldwin
and Sinema in the Senate, attended a ceremony after the House vote with Pelosi
and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
"When I think about this bill, I think about how much it matters to people
in each of our lives, our family members, our coworkers, our neighbors, our
friends," Collins said.
Thursday's vote came as the LGBTQ community has faced violent attacks, such
as the shooting this month at a gay nightclub in Colorado that killed five
people and injured at least 17.
"We have been through a lot," said Kelley Robinson, incoming president of
the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. But Robinson says the votes show "in
such an important way" that the country values LBGTQ people.
"We are part of the full story of what it means to be an American," said
Robinson, who was inside the Senate chamber for last week's vote with her wife
and young son. "It really speaks to them validating our love."
The vote was personal for many senators, too. Schumer said after the House
vote that his daughter and her wife are expecting their first child next year.
"My grandchild will live in a world that will respect and honor their
mothers' marriage," Schumer said.
Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, has been working on gay rights issues
for almost four decades. She also attended the House ceremony.
"We are giving these loving couples the certainty that their marriages are
legal, and that they will continue to have the same rights and responsibilities
and benefits of every other married couple," Baldwin said. "We are telling
these Americans that we see them and we respect them."