The Historic Breakthrough of the Marriage Equality Congress, in 2 Rankings

On Thursday, the House approved the law on respect for marriagea landmark bill codifying federal protections for marriage equality and demonstrating a marked reversal nearly a quarter-century after Congress passed a bill meant to deny same-sex couples those same rights.

An overwhelming majority of House lawmakers supported the bill, including 39 Republicans, voting 258 to 169 to pass a version of it for a second time. House lawmakers approved an earlier iteration of the legislation in Julyeven if they had to vote it again because of the new language added by the Senate on religious freedoms. Because this bill has already passed the Senate, where it also garnered bipartisan support, it now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk, where it will be signed into law.

Once it takes effect, the legislation will officially repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. The new bill will also require states to recognize same-sex marriages even if a Supreme Court precedent establishing this right is overturned.

The bill’s support speaks to how far Congress and the United States have evolved on this issue. The last time both houses passed a same-sex marriage bill was the passage of DOMA in 1996 during the administration of President Bill Clinton. That law, which was struck down by the courts, allowed the federal government to discriminate against same-sex couples and gave states the leeway to do the same.

Under DOMA, the federal government didn’t recognize same-sex marriages, meaning people in these unions weren’t eligible for more than a thousand benefits related to everything from social services to immigration. The bill also gave states that wanted to ban same-sex marriage the ability to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states..

The shift between the two grades is stark. In 1996, 85 senators voted in favor of DOMA, while only 14 – all Democrats – voted against. This year, 61 senators voted to formally repeal DOMA through the Respect for Marriage Act.

In 1996, 342 House members voted in favor of DOMA, while only 67 voted against. This year, 258 House members voted to repeal DOMA.

The positions of lawmakers who were in power for both ballots are also indicative of this change: President Joe Biden voted for DOMA while in the Senate, although he later opposed it. Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer voted for DOMA in the House and opposed it.

Congressional position on marriage equality is not yet fully representative of the American public, but it is catching up. In 1996, 27% of people supported legalizing same-sex marriage, according to the Gallup poll. That year, only 15% of Congress voted against DOMA. In 2022, 71 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 60% of Congress voted to protect it.

“This vote would have been unimaginable just a decade ago,” Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a major Senate sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, he told PBS in early December. “That’s not where Congress was. That’s not where the people of the United States were. And what we’ve seen since marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015 is that there’s not a single person in Wisconsin or America who doesn’t know someone who has been influenced and benefited by marriage equality.

People gather on a tree-lined street, standing and sitting in lawn chairs, wearing T-shirts and holding placards supporting same-sex marriage rights, including

Supporters of same-sex marriage gather during a protest outside the federal courthouse in Ashland, Kentucky in 2015. Ty Wright/Getty Images