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Respect for Marriage Act overcomes GOP opposition, passes House

House Republicans knew the compromise version of the Respect for Marriage Act was going to pass. Most of them voted against it anyway.


By most measures, the Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t have been written were it not for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The far-right jurist issued a concurring opinion six months ago, arguing that a 2015 ruling on marriage equality was “demonstrably erroneous” and should be “reconsidered.”

It came against a backdrop of Republican officials at multiple levels of government expressing overt opposition to same-sex marriage.

As regular readers know, Democrats, led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, pushed the Respect for Marriage Act to help shield the status quo for same-sex and interracial couples. Last week, the legislation passed the Senate, and as NBC News reported, the House followed suit this morning.

The House passed legislation Thursday that enshrines federal protections for marriages of same-sex and interracial couples. The vote of 258-169 sends the Respect for Marriage Act to President Joe Biden, who has championed the bill and is expected to sign it into law.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who wrote a Washington Post op-ed today touting the legislation as one of her final acts before stepping down, was on the chamber floor this morning to gavel down the vote. Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres, the first Afro-Latino LGBTQ member of Congress, presided over the floor debate. 

To reiterate a point from last week, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that the bill — the result of bipartisan negotiations — is not perfect, though it will achieve some key goals. As a recent NBC News report added:

  • The bill requires the federal government to recognize valid marriages between two individuals.
  • It ensures full benefits for marriages “regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
  • If the Supreme Court were to overturn the right to same-sex marriage, and red states were to roll back the clock, Americans could go to other states and get married even if it’s not legal in their states.
  • It also repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which has been ruled unconstitutional, but is still on the books.

For many on the left, this list should be longer and stronger. My MSNBC colleague Noor Noman, for example, recently made the case that the Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t go nearly far enough to codify the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling into federal law.

But it’s also worth emphasizing the fact that for most congressional Republicans, this modest, narrowly focused legislation, featuring all kinds of concessions to the right in the name of religious liberty, was still a bridge too far.

Indeed, when the House passed a similar version of the bill over the summer, 47 Republicans voted with the Democratic majority. The bill then moved to the right in order to gain support from GOP senators, returned to the House, and passed with 39 Republican votes.

In other words, the Respect for Marriage Act became more conservative and then lost GOP votes, despite the fact that House Republicans knew it was going to pass anyway.

It’s a party that, even now, is dominated by officials who simply do not believe that same-sex couples should have the right to get married — even as polls show that most GOP voters support marriage equality.

Nevertheless, Democrats were unanimous in their support for the measure, and there is no doubt that Biden will sign it into law. There have been some civil rights breakthroughs in recent years, and this is an important addition to the list.