Historic same-sex marriage bill passes final House vote and heads to Joe Biden’s desk

A LGBTQ+ pride flag is seen in front of the US capitol building

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the historic Respect for Marriage Act, a piece of legislation that will federally protect same-sex and interracial marriage rights. 

The bill passed Thursday (8 December) by a vote of 258-169, with 39 Republicans crossing party lines to vote with House Democrats. 

The House already passed an earlier version of the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognise the validity of all marriages conducted in states where they are legal, in July. 

But the bill languished in the Senate, which delayed its vote until after the midterm elections. The Senate voted in favour of the bill last month with a bipartisan amendment, which passed in a 61-36 vote.

It now heads to president Joe Biden to be signed into law. Biden has said been a staunch supporter in the fight to ensure federal protections for marriage equality.

“Today, we stand up to the values the vast majority of Americans hold dear – a belief in the dignity, beauty and divinity in every person in abiding respect for love so powerful that it binds two people together,” House speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

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Several politicians, including vice president Kamala Harris, shared their joy at the vote in favour of the legislation to protect same-sex marriage on Twitter.

Momentum for the bill began to build after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, raising fears the conservative-leaning court might reverse other landmark rulings. 

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This was compounded after justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court might strike down “erroneous” precedents set by rulings like Obergefell v Hodges, the decision that legalised same-sex marriage nationwide.

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the House vote sent a clear message to the world: “Love is winning.” 

“At a time when the LGBTQ+ community continues to face ongoing attacks – from deadly violence to legislative assaults on our rights – today’s vote is a clear victory for this country’s 568,000 same-sex married couples, including me,” Robinson said. 

“The fact that this bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both chambers proves that marriage equality is supported by a wide swath of the American people.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is a “victory” for LGBTQ+ couples and couples of different races. 

“This legislation will safeguard much-needed protections for millions of couples who are baselessly vulnerable in today’s hostile political climate at the state level and in the courts,” Ellis explained. 

She continued: “Congress must use this momentum to keep expanding LGBTQ protections and freedoms including in pending legislation like the Equality Act, and especially for transgender people who face elevated levels of discrimination and attacks.

“It’s long past time for politicians to catch up to the supermajority of Americans of every party who support shared values of equal treatment, and our right to be free from discrimination and to have the same chances to belong, contribute and succeed in our communities and in our country.”

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