WASHINGTON – Congress passed a bill to codify federal recognition of same-sex marriages Thursday with some protections for religious freedom, sending the bill to President Joe Biden.
The House voted 258-169-1 on the bill that would repeal the 1996 law known as the Defense of Marriage Act that the Supreme Court found to be largely unconstitutional in a 2013 decision. It would also codify federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages that are legal in the state where the marriage was performed.
The Senate passed a version of the bill less than two weeks ago, after months of bipartisan negotiations, that added provisions to protect the tax-exempt status and other government benefits of religious institutions.
The Biden administration praised the revised bill last month in a policy statement and said Biden would sign it.
“No person should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love, and every married couple in the United States deserves the security of knowing that their marriage will be defended and respected,” the Biden administration said.
During floor debate Thursday, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and other Democrats praised the measure for protecting the right to same-sex marriage originally recognized in the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“The idea of marriage equality used to be a far-fetched idea. Now it’s the law of the land, and supported by the vast majority of Americans,” Cicilline said.
The original House version of the bill, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, received 47 Republican votes when it first passed the chamber in July on a 267-157 vote.
On Thursday the bill received 39 Republican votes.
In a floor speech, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., one of the Republicans who voted for the original version in July, said he would oppose the bill now because it did not include religious liberty protections beyond what passed in the Senate.
The rule that set the bill up for floor consideration Thursday did not allow for religious liberty amendments offered by Republicans. Those protections were also not in the version of the bill Mast voted for.
“Our oath is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s our singular job here, and ‘We don’t have the time to do it.’ That’s what your side is telling us,” Mast said.
Numerous business and religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the National Association of Manufacturers, have announced support for the revised legislation.
A congressional push to pass a bill to legalize same-sex marriage followed a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that wiped out a constitutional right to an abortion.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the decisions undergirding same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships and access to contraception should be revisited.
Republican opponents to the measure have branded it the “Disrespect for Marriage Act,” including Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., who spoke out against the bill on the House floor Thursday. She and other critics of the measure have pointed to language in the bill granting a private right of action against any governmental entity that discriminates against same-sex couples.
“The bill’s only purpose is to hand the federal government a legal bludgeoning tool to drive people of faith out of the public square, and to silence anyone who dissents,” Hartzler said.
Conservative opponents of the bill unsuccessfully attempted to amend it during Senate debate last month, either by removing the right of action or more narrowly defining government entities covered by the bill.
Critics such as Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., argued the bill could be used to target contractors, adoption agencies and other religiously affiliated organizations who work with governments.
Outside groups such as the Heritage Action Fund criticized the bill, particularly because the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage still stands.
The group issued a “Key Vote” against the measure in a statement last month, stating “the only practical impact of the Respect for Marriage Act would be to put a giant target on the backs of institutions and people of faith.”
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