About a week after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act with relative ease, the House followed suit yesterday, sending the legislation onto the White House. President Joe Biden is certain to sign the bill into law, enshrining federal protections for marriages of same-sex and interracial couples.
But as the dust settles on the civil rights breakthrough, there was something about the vote totals that stood out as important.
As we discussed yesterday, this was not the first time House members considered the measure. In fact, the chamber passed a similar version of the bill over the summer, and 47 Republicans voted with the Democratic majority at the time.
In the months that followed, Democrats agreed to move the bill to the right — adding new religious liberty protections, for example — as part of a lengthy negotiating process with GOP senators. The bill then returned to the House, at which point it passed with 39 Republican votes.
In other words, the Respect for Marriage Act became more conservative and then lost GOP support. Seven House Republicans voted for the legislation in July, only to reverse course yesterday:
- Cliff Bentz of Oregon
- Mario Diaz Balart of Florida
- Brian Mast of Florida
- Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania
- Scott Perry of Pennsylvania
- Maria Salazar of Florida
- Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey
They were joined by an eighth — Utah’s Burgess Owens — who backed the bill over the summer, but who could only manage to vote “present” yesterday afternoon.
Two Republicans — Wisconsin’s Mike Gallagher and Washington’s Jaime Herrera Beutler — moved in the opposite direction, voting “yes” yesterday after voting “no” in July. (Herrera Beutler soon after failed to make the general election ballot after facing a right-wing rival. She could vote how she pleases during the lame-duck session, knowing that she won’t return next year.)
Two additional GOP congressmen — Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger and New York’s Lee Zeldin — supported the bill the first time around, but missed yesterday proceedings.
Remember, for the eight House Republicans who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act in July, only to fail to do so when it really counted, there was no question about the final outcome. These lawmakers knew the legislation would pass, since there’s a Democratic majority, and the party would be unanimous in its support.
In other words, these GOP lawmakers wouldn’t gain anything by reversing course — except the gratitude of far-right activists leaning on the party to oppose marriage equality on principle. The fact that the bill was even more conservative than the one they previously supported was deemed irrelevant.
As a practical matter, such tactics proved inconsequential: The Respect for Marriage Act will soon become law anyway. But looking ahead, it’s worth keeping these developments in mind: Once a Democratic Senate and a Republican House enter negotiations in the new Congress, the talks will be difficult if some GOP officials move further away from bills as they move to the right.