WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House prepared to vote Tuesday to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, concerned that the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade abortion access could jeopardize other rights criticized by many conservative Americans.
Lawmakers were opening a robust and potentially wrenching debate on the controversial issues in what was partly a political strategy setting up an election-year roll call that will force all House members, Republicans and Democrats, to go on the record with their views. It also reflects the legislative branch pushing back against an aggressive court that appears intent on revisiting apparently settled U.S. laws.
“The extremist right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has put our country down a perilous path,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., in a floor speech setting Tuesday’s process in motion.
“It’s time for our colleagues across the aisle to stand up and be counted. Will they vote to protect these fundamental freedoms? Or will they vote to let states take those freedoms away?”
While the Respect for Marriage Act is expected to pass the House, with a Democratic majority, it is almost certain to stall in the evenly split Senate, where most Republicans would likely join a filibuster to block it. It’s one of several bills, including those enshrining abortion access, that Democrats are proposing to confront the court’s conservative majority. Another bill, guaranteeing access to contraceptive services, is set for a vote later this week.
Polling shows a majority of Americans favor preserving rights to marry whom one wishes, regardless of the person’s 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 U.S. adults saying they think such unions should be recognized by law as valid. The poll showed majority support among both Democrats (83%) and Republicans (55%).
Approval of interracial marriage in the U.S. hit a six-decade high at 94% in September, according to Gallup.
Republicans insisted during the Tuesday morning procedural debate that the court was only focused on abortion access in June when it struck down the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling, and they argued that same-sex marriage and other rights are not threatened.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., who led the early debate for his party, did not fully address gay marriage specifically but focused instead on the court’s own language to suggest access to contraception and other rights are not in jeopardy.
For Republicans in Congress the Trump-era confirmation of conservative justices to the Supreme Court fulfilled a long-term GOP goal of revisiting many social, environmental and regulatory issues the party has been unable to tackle on its own by passing bills that could be signed into law.
The legislation heading for a Tuesday vote, the Respect for Marriage Act, would ensure that marriages in the U.S. are treated equally. It 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, in doing away with the Roe v. Wade constitutional right to an abortion, the conservative court left critics concerned there may be more to come.
In writing for the majority overturning Roe, Justice Samuel Alito argued for a more narrow interpretation of the rights guaranteed to Americans, saying the right to an abortion was not spelled out in the Constitution.
“We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,” Alito wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas went further, saying other rulings similar to Roe, 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 taken notice.
Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and now running as a Democrat for the Ohio House, said after the court’s ruling on abortion, “When we lose one right that we have relied on and enjoyed, other rights are at risk.”