US House passes vital same-sex marriage protections – but Senate showdown looms

U.S. Capitol and the dome in Washington, DC

The US House of Representatives has voted through a bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriage.

The Respect for Marriage Act – which aims to restrict homophobic legislature left over from the Clinton-era administration – moved forward with a 267 to 157 win.

All 220 House Democrats voted for the bill as part of a strategy to force politicians to declare their views in anticipation of the mid-term elections. A surprising 47 House Republicans also voted for the bill, with 157 voting against.

This win for same-sex and interracial marriage protections is expected to be stalled or fully blocked by Republican opposition when it reaches the Senate.

Judiciary committee Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, who voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, called the bill a “political charade” in a statement reported by The Guardian.

He said: “We are here for political messaging.”

GOP Senate whip, John Thune of South Dakota, said: “I don’t see anything behind this right now other than, you know, election year politics.”

If passed into law, the bill would repeal certain declarations made in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It would also provide legal protections for interracial couples.

Human Rights Council interim president Joni Madison called the Defense of Marriage Act a “stain upon our nation” in a statement prior to the vote.

“The Defense of Marriage Act – which excluded legally married same-sex couples from accessing the federal rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage – is a stain upon our nation and deserves to be relegated to the trash bin of history.

“With the Respect for Marriage Act, congress has the opportunity to right this wrong by creating an inclusive law that also standardises the mechanism for evaluating when a marriage should be given federal recognition and affirms that public acts, records, and judicial proceedings should be honoured across this country,” she continued.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Heritage Foundation on 21 October, 2021 (Getty/Drew Angerer)

The legislature is increasingly being sidelined by Supreme Court rulings – most notably the recent overturning of the Roe v Wade ruling, which legalised abortion across the US.

This has led to fears that the Court could target other rights, including by overturning the landmark Obergefell v Hodges ruling which established a federal right to same-sex marriage.

Republican-appointed justice Clarence Thomas took aim at several Supreme Court rulings in his statement on Roe, saying it paves the way for an opportunity to reconsider “all of this court’s substantive due process precedent”. This includes a law that legalised contraceptives and another that ruled “sodomy” bans as unconstitutional.