By Christina Lieffring, THE BADGER PROJECT
Two Republican congressmen in Wisconsin joined the state’s three Democrats in voting to approve Thursday a bill that protects same-sex and inter-racial marriage across the country.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, 39 Republicans joined all 219 Democratic colleagues to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, including U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) and U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay).
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
The Respect for Marriage Act requires all states recognize the validity of all marriages as long as they are considered valid in the state where they were performed.
Steil voted in favor of the bill during the first House vote in July, the only Wisconsin Republican to do so. After the Senate amended the bill to address his concerns regarding polygamy, Gallagher changed his vote in favor also.
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly-gay person elected to the Senate, introduced the bill with Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Susan Collins (R-ME) in July shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization undermined the individual rights precedent that upholds the court’s decision on same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, and inter-racial marriage, Loving v. Virginia.
“Marriage equality is a constitutional right that has been well established by the Supreme Court as precedent, and this freedom should be protected,” Baldwin said in a press release announcing the bill. “The bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act will enshrine and protect marriage equality and make sure legal same-sex, and interracial marriages are recognized.”
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority decision that Dobbs would have no impact on Obergefell. But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court “should reconsider” Obergefell in light of the Dobbs decision, as well as Griswold v. Connecticut, which protects married couples’ access to contraceptives, and Lawrence v. Texas, which protects the right for consenting adults to engage in same-sex intimacy.
“We are thrilled that the Respect for Marriage Act passed both the Senate and the House with robust bipartisan support,” Baldwin said in a statement. “This commonsense legislation provides certainty to millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages, who will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages. At the same time, our legislation fully respects and protects religious liberty and diverse beliefs about marriage. This is an important and historic step forward in ensuring dignity and respect for all Americans.”
Steil told WISN-TV earlier this month that the bill “maintains the status quo.”
“This is the political bickering I think that people are so frustrated with,” he added. “This is the home stretch of one-party Democratic control. But ultimately, it doesn’t alter state law and it just maintains the status quo.”
Gallagher makes statement
In a written statement, Gallagher said “The Supreme Court found there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015. While the possibility of the decision being overturned is extremely low, that is not an excuse for Congress to ignore this issue.”
“The Respect for Marriage Act fixes the polygamy loophole in Speaker Pelosi’s hastily written version and creates strong religious liberty protections for religious organizations, including schools, churches, and adoption agencies,” he continued. “It also moves more of the issue of marriage to the states – where I believe it belongs – while providing practical reciprocity provisions for those who move from one state to another. It is far better for Congress to pass legislation that protects religious organizations and provides stability to the millions of people in a same-sex marriage than to rely on federal judges to make these decisions.”
The rest of Wisconsin’s GOP delegation— Reps. Tom Tiffany, Glenn Grothman, and Scott Fitzgerald, and Sen. Ron Johnson— voted in opposition to the bill.
Johnson initially said publicly he would consider supporting codifying same-sex marriage, but reversed course, stating that the Respect for Marriage Act was “unnecessary as the Obergefell decision is settled law and has no chance of being overturned,” and that the amended bill “did not provide sufficient protection for those with strongly held religious beliefs.”
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