The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill to codify the right to same-sex and interracial marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade — with one justice writing that the right to same-sex marriage should also be reversed.
The final vote was 267-157, with 47 Republicans joining every Democrat in the majority.
Notable among those conservatives was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — in a break from her past stance on the issue, which publicly put her at odds with her parents and sister, who is gay. In 2021, Cheney reversed her opinion and said, “I was wrong.” (By contrast, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, voted no on the legislation Tuesday.)
Rep. Jerry Nadler, DN.Y., kicked off debate on the bill — The Respect For Marriage Act — which would prevent state discrimination related to marriage based on “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” It would also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The legislation, Nadler said, “would reaffirm that marriage equality is and must remain the law of the land.”
“Congress should provide additional reassurance that marriage equality is a matter of settled law. All married people building their lives together must know that the government must respect and recognize their marriage for all-time,” Nadler continued.
Concern among some lawmakers and advocates about the legal fate of same-sex marriage mounted after Justice Clarence Thomas’ competition in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which reversed Roe last month. In his separate opinion from the majority, Thomas wrote that the court should next revisit its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, from 2015, which guaranteed nationwide same-sex marriage.
While the court’s majority took pains to note its decision to overturn Roe should not be seen as an indication of future rulings, Thomas’ separate opinion caused alarm among same-sex marriage supporters.
House Democrats have set votes on multiple bills to codify rights that were not spelled out in the Constitution but which were granted — at least for a period of time, in Roe’s case — by Supreme Court rulings.
“The Supreme Court’s extremist and previous-ignoring decision in Dobbs v. Jackson has shown us why it is critical to ensure that federal law protects those whose constitutional rights might be threatened by Republican-controlled state legislatures,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement on Monday.
Following Nadler’s introduction of the marriage bill Tuesday, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called the proposal an attempt to “intimidate” the Supreme Court and said the threat to same-sex marriage was a “manufactured crisis” — accusing Democrats of using the the legislation as a political tool.
“Democrats can’t run on their disastrous record, they can’t run on any accomplishments less than four months before an election,” Jordan said.
Both he and Texas Republican Rep. Mike Johnson said there was no need for the bill.
Nadler pushed back on the notion that Obergefell was solidified and that the bill was unnecessary. “If that decision is not overturned, this bill is unnecessary but harmless. If that decision is overturned, this bill is crucial — and we don’t know what this court is going to do,” he said.
House Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise said at a press conference Tuesday morning that Republicans would be free to make their own decision on the bill — reflecting, in part, how the politics around the issue have shifted for the GOP in the seven years since Obergefell . Polling shows Americans have become increasingly supportive of same-sex marriage.
“Every member obviously is going to have to make their own vote on that,” Scalise said.
In a show of Republican backing for the bill, New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis indicated her support shortly before debate began.
“Today, I will vote to codify same-sex marriage to ensure our fellow Americans continue to have the right to equal marriage and benefits under federal law,” Malliotakis said in a statement after expressing regret for a previous vote against the legalization of same- sex marriage in New York when she served in the state Assembly.
After being passed by the House, the bill moves to a split Senate where Republican support is possible, too, if fragmented. It’s unclear if and when the upper chamber will take it up, given other business and a looming recess.
“I’ve made clear my support for gay marriage years ago. I will look at what the House is doing and see what that might mean here on the Senate side,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said Tuesday morning. She also listed the Supreme Court’s pro-abortion access rulings and its ruling guaranteeing contraception for married couples as rights she would like to see codified. (Democratic leaders in the House said this week they will also vote on a bill codifying contraception access.)
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., criticized Democrats’ framing of the same-sex marriage proposal but stopped short of saying how he would vote on it.
“It’s obviously settled law right now. This is a pure messaging bill by a party that has failed on substantive issues — be it inflation, crime or the [southern] border and now are looking for cultural issues in order to somehow do better in November,” he said.
Sen. John Thune, RS.D., said the marriage bill would likely draw a “mixed bag” of Republican votes.
The proposal was introduced Monday by a bipartisan group including Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
ABC News’ Gabe Ferris and Trish Turner contributed to this report.