With the U.S. Capitol in the background, a person waves a rainbow flag. | Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
Landmark legislation enshrining federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriage saw a significant drop in House Republican support despite its overall passage Thursday — even after the Senate added language aimed at safeguarding religious liberty.
Thirty-nine House Republicans ultimately supported the measure, which passed the House 258-169 with Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) voting present. That’s down from the 47 Republicans who supported an earlier iteration of the legislation back in July, underscoring a party that still faces significant backlash over support for same-sex marriage.
After Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the final vote — to raucous applause in the chamber — the measure now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and incoming Majority Whip-elect Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) were among the notable votes in favor of the legislation, continuing their support from July. Lawmakers had cited Emmer’s vote as a reason they may not support him for whip, though he eventually prevailed in the conference vote.
Seven House Republicans — Reps. Cliff Bentz (Ore.), Mario Díaz-Balart (Fla.), Brian Mast
(Fla.), Dan Meuser (Pa.), Scott Perry (Pa.), María Elvira Salazar (Fla.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.) — voted yes in July on the legislation, but opposed passage Thursday.
GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) supported the bill previously but did not vote Thursday. And two Republicans who previously opposed the bill — Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) — supported its final passage. Herrera Beutler, Zeldin and Kinzinger all will be leaving Congress at the end of the term.
And it wasn’t just Emmer who faced significant party criticism for doing so. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who ultimately backed the bill, alluded to the political backlash she faced for her support in a floor speech, saying it “involved a painful exercise in accepting admonishment, and fairly brutal self soul-searching.” She also mentioned that “Americans address each other in more crude and cruel terms than ever in my lifetime.”
One of the 39 Republican yeses, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), explained her vote in favor of the legislation in a statement.
“The right to marry whoever you love regardless of the color of your skin or orientation shouldn’t be controversial,” she said. “Our nation was built on the notion of individual liberty.”
Many of the LGBTQ members of the Democratic caucus, including Reps. David Cicilline (R.I.), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Mark Takano (Calif.), Angie Craig (Minn.) and Chris Pappas (N.H.), spoke passionately in favor of the legislation on the floor before House passage.
“I’m standing here today because, in the year 2022, families like mine are once again concerned that an activist, out-of-step Supreme Court is going to take those rights away,” Craig said from the floor.
Pelosi said the legislation would “codify a legal reality already handed down by the Supreme Court” and noted it would be one of the final measures she would sign as speaker. The House initially took up the legislation after Justice Clarence Thomas said in a recent opinion that the Court should reconsider some past rulings, including its decision on same-sex marriage.
“Today, this chamber proudly stands with forces of freedom — not going back — and justice,” Pelosi said on the floor.
The final vote also occurred as Biden, who became the most prominent Democrat a decade ago to speak in favor of same-sex marriage, spoke at the White House with the wife of WNBA star Britney Griner to celebrate her release from Russian custody.
Some Republicans that opposed the measure did so with conviction. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), her voice breaking with tears, condemned the marriage bill from the floor.
“Protect religious liberty, protect people of faith and protect Americans who believe in the true meaning of marriage,” Hartzler, who lost her bid for Missouri’s Senate seat this year, said. “I hope and pray that my colleagues will find the courage to join me in opposing this misguided and dangerous bill.”
Among those spotted in the House for final passage were Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who led the charge for the bill in the Senate, and former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the first congressman to voluntarily come out as gay.
“I was there for the birth [of the Defense of Marriage Act], and I’m here for the funeral,” Frank said.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.