Congress passes bill protecting same-sex and inter-racial marriages

This law might seem unnecessary but given that the US Supreme Court just overturned the precedent of a constitutional right to abortion and one of the justices signaled that they might want to do the same to same-sex marriage, it seemed like a federal law to protect those hard won rights was necessary.

The House gave final passage on Thursday to landmark legislation protecting same-sex marriage, in a bipartisan vote that reflects a remarkable shift in public opinion just over a quarter-century after Congress defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The final vote was 258 to 169, with 39 Republican members joining every House Democrat in supporting the bill. One Republican, Burgess Owens of Utah, voted present.

The historic legislation, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, requires federal and state governments to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages, prohibiting them from denying the validity of a marriage legally performed in another state on the basis of sex, race or ethnicity.
During the House debate over the bill, a number of Republicans criticized the proposal as an insult to religious liberty and a Democratic attempt to force liberal policies on more conservative states.

However, should Obergefell fall, the new law would not compel all 50 states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples nor does it stop states from moving to ban or limit same-sex marriages. In a concession to win Republican support, the measure also includes an exemption for religious organizations, guaranteeing that they would not be required to provide goods, services or accommodations for a celebration of a same-sex marriage, and that such a refusal would not jeopardize their tax-exempt status or other benefits.

Notably, the bill would also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma), which defined a marriage as the union between a man and a woman and denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. Though the supreme court struck down part of the law, it remained on the books.

When Bill Clinton signed Doma into law in 1996, same-sex was considered a divisive cultural issue. At the time, nearly seven in 10 Americans said marriages between same-sex couples should not be recognized by law as valid, according to Gallup. Now, decades later, almost exactly the same number of Americans – a record 71% – say same-sex unions should be legal.

The legislation also revealed a growing divide among religious groups: while Catholic bishops and conservative evangelical leaders called on lawmakers to oppose the measure, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave its support.

The inclusion of inter-racial marriage may seem unnecessary given that the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling that outlawed all prohibitions on such marriages seems so settled. Inter-racial marriages are commonplace now and inter-racial couples are all over the media and companies seem to go out of their way to portray them in their commercials, showing that it has become truly mainstream.

One reason for including it may be because justice Clarence Thomas is the one who has suggested that the same-sex marriage verdict was wrong. He is himself in an inter-racial marriage and tying it in with same-sex marriage may have been a way to make it awkward for him to reject one while keeping the other.

It would be nice if one day there was a member of the US Supreme Court who was in a same-sex marriage, to hammer it home that it is here to stay.


  1. Deepak Shetty says

    One reason for including it may be because justice Clarence Thomas is the one who has suggested that the same-sex marriage verdict was wrong. He is himself in an inter-racial marriage and tying it in with same-sex marriage may have been a way to make it awkward for him to reject one while keeping the other.

    I can safely predict that reputed historian and noted medium with a totally accurate Ouija board ,Clarence Thomas, can find an originalist reason why his marriage is fine and why states can ban inter racial marriages if it came to that.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    “This law might seem unnecessary …”
    Oh, no it is not unnecessary. We have been shown over and over again that there is a hard core of not merely conservative but actually reactionary people, mostly in the Republican party but plenty elsewhere too, who want Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness to be protected only for those people they deem worthy. And we can’t stop with this one Act, either. Contraceptives, sex outside of marriage, non-procreational sex, they all were illegal in the past, at least in some places, and there are plenty of people who want those things to be illegal again. It was in my lifetime that Lenny Bruce was jailed for using dirty words in front of an audience who had paid to see him, and I am quite sure there are some on the Supreme Court that would be quite happy to bring back those kind of laws, too.

  3. billseymour says

    I have to agree with moarscienceplz on this one.  Folks who use religion as an excuse for their pride and hate are starting to get political power.

  4. Deepak Shetty says


    Oh, no it is not unnecessary.

    Unless you make it a constitutional amendment all it needs is a single election to reverse.
    If not there’s always the Supreme court to appeal to.

  5. M. Currie says

    Opponents of Vermont’s Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing reproductive freedom, called it unnecessary because it duplicates existing laws, and then plastered the state with posters yelling “say NO to late term abortion,” thus cementing the reason why an amendment they just called redundant was not at all, as well as (unfortunately not to everyone) identifying themselves as liars.

    In these times, we need belt and suspenders, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry a piece of string just in case.

    PS: Both the reproductive rights and anti-slavery amendments passed overwhelmingly, even in the reddest little towns, and were signed officially today.

  6. lanir says

    I think passing this was a good idea but I have come to think that it isn’t the ironclad protection a lot of people seem to think it is.

    Our current US Supreme Court is full of incompetent idealogues who seem willing to ignore quite a bit when their core beliefs are called into question. Now to be fair, I think most humans in general and I’d bet all SCOTUS justices think that way about their core beliefs. But I think past justices either included some positive beliefs about the country or the rights of the people in there or they were at least better at meshing their beliefs with the realities of their job. These guys? Yeah, no. Not so much.

    So when they get around to pushing back on marriage equality this will be less like a brick wall and more like a speed bump along the way. I don’t think it will actually stop them.

    Some quick examples of why I think this are the case of a web designer suing to repeal a law that never affected her (standing… it’s still a thing, right?), the lack of any delay in implementing the decision removing federal abortion rights (think of all the chaos it caused… now imagine if it hadn’t been leaked beforehand), and they’re entertaining the idea of removing state courts from the process that sets up federal elections (setting up a messy system where state and federal elections run by different rules).

    Until the court is expanded I think we’re stuck with some shockingly terrible decisions from them in every session. Like Trump’s presidency it will take years of diligent work by people far more competent at their jobs to undo all the damage that’s being done.

  7. M. Currie says

    I think Lanir is mostly right, but I do also think, in the case of the new Federal law, that there is another dimension. It is one thing to judge that a right is not granted by the Constitution. But if the basis for that is that the subject is not dealt with at all by the Constitution, then it is a whole lot harder (not to say impossible given the prevalence of improbablists currently on the Court) to find constitutional grounds to nullify a law. Of course given the current Court, it would not be beneath them just to make something up and, having tossed precedent aside, to overturn their own. Of course a new law is not safe from repeal by the next batch of lawmakers, but it’s a little harder to undo something people have gotten used to and benefited from than it is to do it in the first place, and at least a constitutional challenge will be harder. Better a speed bump than nothing at all.

  8. khms says

    In general, I think it is a good thing that over here in Germany, constitutional amendments are quite a bit easier to make than in the US since it grew to 50 states.
    US process:
    Step 1. Passage by Congress. Proposed amendment language must be approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

    Step 2. Notification of the states. The national archivist sends notification and materials to the governor of each state.

    Step 3. Ratification by three-fourths of the states. Ratification of the amendment language adopted by Congress is an up-or-down vote in each legislative chamber. A state legislature cannot change the language. If it does, its ratification is invalid. A governor’s signature on the ratification bill or resolution is not necessary.

    Step 4. Tracking state actions. Proposed amendments must be ratified by three-fourths of the states in order to take effect. Congress may set a time limit for state action. The official count is kept by Office of the Federal Register at the National Archives. Legislatures must return specific materials to show proof of ratification.

    Step 5. Announcement. When the requisite number of states ratify a proposed amendment, the archivist of the United States proclaims it as a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Actual certification is published immediately in the Federal Register and eventually in the United States Statutes-at-Large.
    German process (quoted directly from the constitution):

    Article 79
    [Amendment of the Basic Law]

    (1) This Basic Law may be amended only by a law expressly amending or supplementing its text. In the case of an international treaty regarding a peace settlement, the preparation of a peace settlement or the phasing out of an occupation regime or designed to promote the defence of the Federal Republic, it shall be sufficient, for the purpose of making clear that the provisions of this Basic Law do not preclude the conclusion and entry into force of the treaty, to add language to the Basic Law that merely makes this clarification.

    (2) Any such law shall be carried by two thirds of the Members of the Bundestag and two thirds of the votes of the Bundesrat.

    (3) Amendments to this Basic Law affecting the division of the Federation into Länder, their participation in principle in the legislative process, or the principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20 shall be inadmissible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *