House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signs the Respect For Marriage Act in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 2022.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signs the Respect For Marriage Act in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 2022. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

'Historic Victory': House Passes Bill to Protect Same-Sex and Interracial Marriage

President Joe Biden is expected to promptly sign the Respect for Marriage Act, which Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jerry Nadler described as "an essential step to guard against the increasingly extremist, right-wing Supreme Court."

Civil rights proponents cheered Thursday after all 219 House Democrats and 39 Republicans voted to pass legislation enshrining recognition of same-sex and interracial partnerships, just over a week after the Senate did the same.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign into law as soon as this week, jettisons the definition of marriage as "between a man and a woman" and requires all states to recognize the validity of legally obtained marriage licenses regardless of gender or race. However, the bill stops short of codifying the right of same-sex and interracial couples to marry nationwide.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws barring interracial and same-sex marriages were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, respectively, the Respect for Marriage Act does not prevent states from prohibiting such partnerships in the event the high court overturns those precedents--something Justice Clarence Thomas signaled is a possibility in his concurring opinion for the June decision that eliminated federal abortion rights.

"In 2022, no person should have to fight for their government to recognize their marriage based on who they love," NAACP president Derrick Johnson said Thursday in a statement. "With the Loving v. Virginia and Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decisions at risk of reversal, our country has reached a pivotal juncture in the fight for marriage equality."

The House had already passed an earlier iteration of the Respect for Marriage Act in July, but the Senate postponed its vote on the measure until after the midterm elections. Last week, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill, which clarifies that the federal government would not recognize polygamous marriages and confirms that religious organizations would not be required "to provide goods or services to formally recognize or celebrate a marriage."

The last-minute changes were key to securing enough Republican support in the Senate and triggered a new vote in the House. While some have criticized the legislation as insufficiently protective and overly deferential to religious groups, Thursday's 258-169 House vote and last week's 61-26 Senate vote have been celebrated as significant achievements.

"By passing the Respect for Marriage Act, Congress has reaffirmed that the government cannot and should not interfere with individuals' right to marry the person they love," said Caroline Medina, director of LGBTQ+ policy at the Center for American Progress. Although 169 Republicans refused to support the legislation, "Thursday's bipartisan vote is a historic victory for couples, families, and children nationwide."

In a joint statement, Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), author of the Respect for Marriage Act, said that "Congress finally righted the injustices of the Defense of Marriage Act and Jim Crow--and tonight, millions of same-sex and interracial couples can go to sleep knowing their partnerships will be protected under federal law."

"Thanks to the action of House Democrats, led by CPC members on the House Judiciary Committee, and Senate negotiators, we are sending a bill to President Biden's desk to ensure that legal protections for same-sex and interracial couples will continue for every family across America, no matter what state they live in," said Jayapal and Nadler.

The pair acknowledged that "it might seem impossible that we've come so far in just a decade" since the nation's chief judicial body ruled in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act, enacted 26 years ago, is unconstitutional. "But those of us who come from progressive movements are not so surprised."

"Every inch of progress in American history has been won by ordinary Americans seeking justice, and today's victory is no different," they continued. "We are here today because of civil rights and LGBTQ movements who never stopped pushing for equal treatment under law. We are here because of activists who died for the right to be recognized in their full humanity by the United States government."

"Even as we celebrate this historic achievement, we know that the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people and communities of color has a long way to go," added Jayapal and Nadler. "We will continue to fight for the Equality Act to become law, and to push, as progressives always have, to address the crises of discrimination [against] Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, and LGBTQ, particularly transgender, Americans."

Join the Movement: Become Part of the Solution Today

We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.

Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.