by Jennifer Shutt, Wisconsin Examiner
July 20, 2022

WASHINGTON — Both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House voted Tuesday to enshrine the right to same-sex and interracial marriages in federal law, though the bill’s path forward in the Senate is unclear.

The 267-157 bipartisan vote stemmed from concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion may not be the only fundamental right the conservative justices could undo. A total of 47 Republicans voted for the bill, including Wisconsin’s Rep. Bryan Steil. The rest of Wisconsin’s Republican delegation, including Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman and Tom Tiffany, all voted against the measure. Wisconsin Democratic Reps. Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan all voted for it.

The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, would require state government to recognize marriages from other states regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the two people in the marriage.

Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, urged members to approve the bill, saying during floor debate “it simply says each state will recognize other states’ marriages and not deny a person the right to marry based on race, gender, sexual orientation.”

“The only reason to be against it is because you really don’t want to go on record as being in favor of those rights,” Cohen continued.

Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan spoke against the legislation, saying that it was “unnecessary and wrong” for the House to take up the bill.

The Democrats’ decision to bring  the measure to the floor, he said, was designed for political messaging heading into the November midterm elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court, Jordan contended, will not overturn any other precedents the way it overturned two cases that kept abortion legal for nearly half a century.

Jordan then read from the majority opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito that said: “To ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

Democrats who took to the floor during debate said the bill is necessary given Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion in the abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider three cases that stem from the same due process clause under the 14th Amendment that previously included the right to an abortion.

Those cases — Griswold v. Connecticut, Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas — allowed people to determine if and when to use contraceptives, legalized same-sex marriages and prevented the government from criminalizing adult private consensual sexual relationships.

In a floor speech, Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan (R-Black Earth) said, “This is a simple bill: whether or not you support current law on marriage in this country, which includes for the LGBT and interracial couples across the nation. My friend from Ohio said this bill is unnecessary.”

“This bill is very necessary, because the extremist-packed Supreme Court recently took away a half a century of law on Roe, and in that decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said they should revisit it on marriage equality,” Pocan said. “We have people in this House and in the Senate, like Senator Ted Cruz, who’ve said the exact same thing.”

“Here’s what I want: I want to make sure that my husband, Phil, can visit me in the hospital should I have to go back again, like when I had a triple bypass a few years ago,” Pocan added. “I want to make sure my husband has my earned benefits for retirement and Social Security. I want to make sure that my husband is taken care of, just like your spouses are taken care of.”

LGBTQ advocates have pushed for Congress to enshrine the right to marry and reproductive rights supporters have encouraged lawmakers to guarantee that women can continue deciding whether to use birth control without government interference.

All are concerned the conservative Supreme Court may overturn those fundamental rights in the future based on the Thomas opinion.

The U.S. House is expected to vote on a bill Thursday that would ensure women have the ability to choose if and how they use contraception.

That legislation, from North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning, has 139 co-sponsors in the House, none of whom are Republicans.

It’s unclear if the marriage bill the House passed Tuesday can garner the GOP support needed to clear the U.S. Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, declined to say Tuesday afternoon during a press conference if he’d vote for the marriage equality bill or whip his members against supporting it.

“I’m going to delay announcing anything on that issue until we see what the majority leader wants to put on the floor,” McConnell said.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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