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Washington, Idaho Congressional members split on same-sex marriage vote

July 21, 2022 Updated Thu., July 21, 2022 at 8:24 a.m.

Chris Henry and Chase Lawrence walk arm and arm out the front doors of the Spokane County Courthouse after they received their same-sex marriage license 10 years ago.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Chris Henry and Chase Lawrence walk arm and arm out the front doors of the Spokane County Courthouse after they received their same-sex marriage license 10 years ago. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Former Spokane City Councilman Dean Lynch remembers what it was like before same-sex marriage was protected federally with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling.

Lynch, who’s been with his husband since 1986, said he and his partner would prepare for what would happen if one of them was in an accident, knowing that access to some medical services could be challenging in a state where same-sex marriage was not accepted.

Washington legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, but if federal protections no longer exist, Lynch said he would worry about what could happen if they cross state lines.

“The prospect is frightening,” Lynch said. “It would be very painful to have to go back to those days.”

Amid concerns that the Supreme Court may rethink previous rulings on things like same-sex marriage or contraception, the U.S. House on Tuesday voted to codify same-sex and interracial marriages.

Some lawmakers said the vote was unnecessary as the court has yet to take up any challenges to their previous decisions, while others pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrent opinion in the recent case effectively overturning the federal right of women to have an abortion.

The justice wrote that the abortion ruling should lead the court to reconsider other decisions surrounding the rights of contraception and same-sex marriage.

With the legislation likely to stall in the Senate, Tuesday’s vote was characterized by some as a maneuver to put House members on the record about their feelings on the issue. A vote on similar legislation regarding the right to access contraception is likely to come in the following days.

The House voted 267-157; the delegations from Washington and Idaho were split on the measure. All Democrats from Washington voted in favor of the legislation. Rep. Dan Newhouse was the only Washington Republican to vote in favor. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler voted against it.

Idaho Republican Russ Fulcher voted against the legislation, while Republican Michael Simpson voted in favor.

Many Republicans who voted against the bill said they did so because they did not feel it was necessary, as the Supreme Court has yet to overrule previous rulings surrounding same-sex and interracial marriage.

McMorris Rodgers told The Spokesman-Review she felt the vote was “unnecessary.” In a statement, she said it was “bad faith politics.”

“This bill does not change what the Supreme Court has already decided is the law of the land in all 50 states when it comes to marriage equality,” she said. “In reality, it’s nothing more than a red herring designed to distract Americans from the devastating consequences of record-high inflation, historic prices at the gas pump, skyrocketing violence in our cities, and growing food insecurity nationwide.”

Lynch said it was “very disappointing” that McMorris Rodgers was not willing to vote in favor of the bill, despite most constituents supporting it.

“One of the things that should be a standard is that we do not discriminate against people based upon traits that they cannot change,” Lynch said.

In a statement, Herrera Beutler said House leadership rushed the bill for a vote “theoretically in response to Supreme Court rhetoric.” She said House leaders should have given members more than 18 hours notice to study the bill.

Fulcher said in a statement that the bill received no consideration in committee. He said legislation “unnecessarily inserts the heavy hand of the federal government where it is not needed, creating a scenario where Idaho may be forced to recognize an evolving definition of marriage according to other states.”

Both Fulcher and Beutler pointed to a portion of the Court’s opinion in the Dobb’s case that said the decision should not “cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

“In other words, marriage as it exists in the U.S. today is viewed by a majority of this Supreme Court as a settled matter. I’m not interested in further involving the federal government in marriage,” Herrera Beutler said.

Simpson said in a statement he voted to uphold the precedent that American adults can marry without regard to gender, race or ethnicity.

“Marriage in one state will continue to be recognized and legitimate in every other state,” he said.

Still, Simpson criticized Democrats for “wasting precious floor time on bills that make absolutely no changes to existing laws.” He said Congress needs to work to solve other problems, such as high gas prices and inflation.

The legislation, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, would repeal and replace a definition of marriage that currently exists in federal law that says it is between a man and a woman and that a spouse is a person of the opposite sex. It also says any marriage is valid under state law, meaning no state can deny out-of-state marriage licenses and benefits on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.

Previous language barring same-sex marriages and interracial marriages became unconstitutional after the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges and the 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia.

But some have raised concerns that those decisions may soon be overruled, pointing to Thomas’s concurrent opinion.

“The Supreme Court has already overturned the right to an abortion & some Rs are calling on the Supreme Court to overturn same-sex marriage next,” Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., wrote in a tweet.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., also tweeted that Thomas “invited a challenge to same-sex marriage” in his concurring opinion. Voting to protect it would ensure it remains in effect even if the court overturns the rights in the future, he said.

Codifying same-sex and interracial marriage in federal law would protect those rights from any future Supreme Court rulings.

The U.S. House will also likely vote this week on the Right to Contraception Act, which would “protect a person’s ability to access contraceptives and to engage in contraception, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception,” according to the bill description.

S-R reporter Orion Donovan-Smith contributed to this report.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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