The US Congress on Thursday passed landmark legislation to protect same-sex marriage under federal law, and President Joe Biden has vowed to quickly sign the measure.
The vote in the House of Representatives saw 39 Republicans join a united Democratic majority in a rare show of bipartisanship, provoking loud cheers on the floor less than 10 days after the Senate passed the same bill.
“Today, Congress took a critical step to ensure that Americans have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said in a statement.
He said the bipartisan vote would “give peace of mind to millions of LGBTQI+ and interracial couples who are now guaranteed the rights and protections to which they and their children are entitled.”
The conservative-led Supreme Court in June overturned longstanding abortion rights, prompting lawmakers of both parties to move to prevent the court from taking away same-sex marriage rights, as some feared it might do.
The House had earlier approved legislation similar to the Senate’s, but needed Thursday’s vote to reconcile minor differences.
Biden has dubbed marriage equality one of his legislative priorities and has said he will “promptly and proudly” sign the bill into law.
The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.
Minutes before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, called the act a “historic step forward in Democrats’ fight to defend the dignity and equality of every American.”
“Today we stand up for the values the vast majority of Americans hold dear, a belief in the dignity, beauty, and divinity — divinity, a spark of divinity in every person — and abiding respect for love so powerful that it binds two people together,” the Democrat from California said.
While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states.
The US Catholic bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.
“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.
“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized.
“Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”
A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”
The Supreme Court in a 2015 decision legalized same-sex marriages. Hundreds of thousands of couples have married since then. – with reports from AFP and CNA