House passes landmark bill to protect same-sex marriages, sending it to Biden's desk

Key Points
  • The House passed a bill to protect same-sex marriages at the federal level, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
  • The measure passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
  • Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion to the decision to overturn federal abortion rights this summer raised the prospect of the court scrapping protections for same-sex marriage and contraception, among other rights.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signs "The Respect for Marriage Act" alongside fellow members of Congress, during a bill enrollment ceremony on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2022. 
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The House passed a landmark bill Thursday enshrining federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriage, sending it to President Joe Biden, who has said he looks forward to signing it into law.

The Respect for Marriage Act passed the Democratic-led House in a 258-169-1 vote, as 39 Republicans joined all Democrats in supporting it. It also won bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled Senate in late November: 12 GOP senators crossed party lines to vote for the legislation.

During the summer, an earlier version of the bill won the support of 47 Republicans in the House. The version passed on Thursday contained an amendment providing additional protections for religious liberty and faith-based nonprofits, something Republicans had backed.

The bill gained traction after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion to the court's decision to overturn federal abortion rights this summer, raised the prospect of the court scrapping other rights including same-sex marriage and contraception. Advocates had pushed Congress to enshrine those rights into law.

The bill also represents a personal victory for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose San Francisco congressional district was the birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement. She presided over the debate and the vote on Thursday.

In an op-ed Wednesday in the Washington Post, Pelosi said the Respect for Marriage Act was a fitting way for her to end her historic speakership.

"Just as I began my career fighting for LGBTQ communities, I am overjoyed that one of the final bills I will sign as speaker will be the Respect for Marriage Act: ensuring the federal government will never again stand in the way of marrying the person you love," wrote Pelosi.

The Respect for Marriage Act formally repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. That bill denied same-sex couples federal benefits and permitted states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court would later go on to invalidate the key provisions of DOMA in two watershed rulings,  United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2013 and 2015, respectively.