The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the amended version of the Respect for Marriage Act on a bipartisan vote of 258-169, clearing the way for the legislation to head to President Joe Biden for his signature. The vote came early today (Thursday, Dec. 8).

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in the 1990s and signed by President Bill Clinton, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The House had approved an earlier version of the Respect for Marriage bill earlier this year, but the Senate version approved late last month included an amendment to “protect religious freedoms, “ and the amended bill had to pass the House again before going to the president for his signature.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor vs. U.S. in 2013 had overturned a portion of DOMA, but the law remained on the books. And the court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges had declared laws banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional. However comments by Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the June 2022 Dobbs ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, called for the court to reconsider its earlier rulings on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights and reproductive choice rulings.

The Respect for Marriage Act requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages but does not force states that would move to ban such marriages in Obergefell  were overturned, to allow such marriages.

Congressman David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island, chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said in a written statement this morning, “The Respect for Marriage Act is a bipartisan triumph and a testament that love will always win in the end. After the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and Justice Thomas’ alarming concurring opinion, it became imperative that Congress do everything we constitutionally could do to ensure that marriages across this country continue to be protected. Today, Congress did what needed to be done.”

He added, “Thanks to our actions today, married people who are building their lives together now know that the government will continue to respect and recognize their marriages. Our work toward equality, however, is not done. We need to harness this momentum and work towards full equality for LGBTQ+ people in all areas of life, including by passing the Equality Act into law.”

— Tammye Nash