Protestors gather in California to support marriage equality in 2008. (Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock)
Protestors gather in California to support marriage equality in 2008. (Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock)

SUMMARY:
– The US House voted in a landslide on Tuesday to cement marriage equality protections into federal law—even though five Republicans from Michigan voted against the legislation.

– Though the Respect for Marriage Act is likely to stall out in the GOP-led Senate, the 267-157 House roll call vote served as a definitive litmus test on basic human rights.

– Wary of political fallout, GOP leaders did not press their members to hold the party line against the bill, aides said. In all, 47 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting for passage.

WASHINGTON—Without much help from Michigan Republicans, the US House overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday to create federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, amid concerns that overturning Roe v. Wade could jeopardize other rights frequently targeted by extreme conservatives.

Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) and Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) were the only two Republicans to join all seven Michigan House Democrats in the vote to support the Respect for Marriage Act, enshrining marriage equality into federal law. Reps. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.), John Moolenaar (R-Midland), and Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) voted against the legislation, which passed in a final roll call vote of 267-157.

In a robust but lopsided debate, Democrats argued intensely and often personally in favor of enshrining marriage equality in federal law, while Republicans steered clear of openly rejecting gay marriage. Instead, Republicans portrayed the bill as unnecessary amid other issues facing the nation.

The roll call vote was partly a political strategy, forcing all House members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to go on the record. It was also a demonstration of the legislative branch pushing back against an aggressive Supreme Court that has raised questions about revisiting other apparently settled U.S. laws.

Wary of political fallout, GOP leaders did not press their members to hold the party line against the bill, aides said. In all, 47 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting for passage.

While the Respect for Marriage Act easily passed the House with a Democratic majority, it is likely to stall in Senate. Though the Senate is split evenly down party lines, most Republicans would probably join a filibuster to block it.

Side Note:
While only 51 votes are required to pass a bill in the Senate, 60 votes are required to end a filibuster. The strategy effectively blocks all partisan legislation from moving forward.

The Respect for Marriage Act is one of several bills Democrats are proposing in an effort to confront the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. Another bill, guaranteeing access to contraceptive services, is set for a vote later this week.

Back in the House, GOP leaders were split over the issue, with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Rep. Steve Scalise voting against the marriage rights bill, and New York’s Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 Republican representative, voting in favor. Other key Republicans in the House have shifted in recent years on the same-sex marriage issue, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who also joined those voting in favor on Tuesday.

In a notable silence, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declined to express his view on the bill—leaving an open question over how strongly his party would fight it, should the law make it to a vote in the upper chamber.

Polling shows a majority of Americans favor preserving rights to marry, regardless of sex, gender, race or ethnicity, a long-building shift in modern mores toward inclusion.

A Gallup poll in June showed broad and increasing support for same-sex marriage, with 70% of US adults saying they think such unions should be recognized by law as valid.

Another recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and released on Tuesday by Progress Michigan offers a look into what the 700-person sample of Michigan voters are feeling as they head into midterm election season.

  • More than 80% said they’re at least “somewhat enthusiastic,” but mostly “very enthusiastic” about the upcoming primary and general elections. 
  • About 30% said they felt “angry” after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
  • Nearly 60% said they support efforts to protect abortion access in Michigan, and are “very motivated” to vote this year in response to their frustrations with the conservative-majority court. 

Of Note:
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, a number of lawmakers joined protesters demonstrating against the abortion ruling outside the Supreme Court, which sits across from the Capitol and remains fenced off for security during tumultuous political times. Capitol Police said among those arrested were 16 members of Congress—including two Michigan lawmakers, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township). Both have since been released.

If passed by the Senate, the Respect for Marriage Act would repeal a law from the Clinton era that defines marriage as a heterogeneous relationship between a man and a woman. It would also provide legal protections for interracial marriages by prohibiting any state from denying out-of-state marriage licenses and benefits on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.

The 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, had basically been sidelined by Obama-era court rulings, including Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the rights of same-sex couples to marry nationwide, a landmark case for gay rights. But last month, writing for the majority in overturning Roe, Justice Samuel Alito argued for a narrower interpretation of rights guaranteed to Americans, noting that the right to an abortion was not spelled out in the Constitution.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas went further, saying other rulings—including those around same-sex marriage and the right for couples to use contraception—should be reconsidered. While Alito insisted in the majority opinion that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” others have since taken notice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.