U.S. Congress passes landmark bill protecting same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives gave final congressional approval on Thursday to legislation granting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, a measure born out of concern that the Supreme Court could reverse its support for legal recognition of such. relationships.

The House vote was 258-169, with all of the chamber’s Democrats and 39 Republicans voting in favor — though 169 of the chamber’s Republicans voted against and one voted “present.” The measure now heads to Democratic President Joe Biden’s desk for signature into law. The Respect for Marriage Act, as it is called, won Senate approval last month.

The legislation won support from LGBT advocates as well as a number of religious organizations and entities, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although many American religious conservatives still oppose same-sex marriage as contrary to biblical scriptures.

It is narrowly written to act as a limited backstop to the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, known as Obergefell v. Hodges. It would allow the federal government and states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages as long as they were legal in the states where they were performed. It makes concessions to religious groups and institutions that do not support such marriages.

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The measure would repeal a 1996 US law called the Defense of Marriage Act, which, among other things, denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. It prevents states from rejecting the validity of out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, or ethnicity. The Supreme Court in 1967 declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional.

But the legislation would not prevent states from blocking same-sex or interracial marriages if the Supreme Court allowed them to do so. It also ensures that religious entities will not be forced to provide goods or services for any marriage, and protects them from being denied tax exemptions or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages.

In a speech in the House of Representatives ahead of the vote, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the “hateful movement” behind attacks on LGBT rights in the United States.

The legislation “will help prevent far-right extremists from upending the lives of loving couples, traumatizing children across the country and rolling back the clock on hard-won prizes,” Pelosi said.

Republican Representative Jim Jordan said the bill was “dangerous and takes the country in the wrong direction.”

When the Senate passed it by a vote of 61-36, 12 Republicans joined 49 Democrats in supporting it. Most Republicans in the Senate voted against.

A broader version of the bill — without the explicit religious freedom protections — passed the 435-seat House in August with support from all Democrats and 47 Republicans. But to get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to proceed with the legislation amid opposition from many Republican senators, its co-sponsors added an amendment clarifying that religious groups could not be sued under it.

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The legislation was written by a group of Democratic and Republican senators in response to fears that the Supreme Court, with its increasingly assertive conservative majority, might one day strike down the Obergefell ruling, potentially jeopardizing same-sex marriage nationwide. The court has shown a willingness to overturn its own precedents, as it did in June when it overturned its landmark 1973 ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared poised Monday to rule that a Christian web designer has the right to refuse to provide gay marriage services in a case that the liberal justices said could give some businesses the authority to discriminate based on constitutional protections of freedom of expression.

About 568,000 married same-sex couples live in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau.

Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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