Bills to Defend Marriage Equality and Contraception Access Pass U.S. House, Head to Senate

Updated July 25, 2022, at 8:05 a.m. PT.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed two landmark pieces of legislation last week: the Respect for Marriage Act, which would grant federal recognition of both same-sex and interracial marriages, and the Right To Contraception Act, which would establish a right in federal law to obtain and use contraceptives.

Democratic leaders say both bills are a direct response to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson which called on the Court to “reconsider” past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.

The bills now both head to the Senate, where Democrats need 10 Republican senators to consider and ultimately pass either bill.

Marriage Equality

The final tally on the Respect for Marriage Act. (Screenshot from C-SPAN)

The Respect for Marriage Act, H.R. 8404, passed on Wednesday by a vote of 267 to 157, including the support of 47 Republicans.

Marriage equality is a constitutional right that has been well established by the Supreme Court as precedent and this freedom should be protected,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors and the first openly lesbian senator in U.S. history. “I take great pride in being a part of this bipartisan effort to protect the progress we have made on marriage equality, because we cannot allow this freedom and right to be denied.”

The bill’s other sponsors are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). In addition to securing marriage equality at the federal level, the Respect for Marriage Act would also repeal the infamous Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that says states are not required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. DOMA is technically unenforceable because of the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015—but as Thomas made clear, that ruling is not safe.

“I want to bring this bill to the floor, and we’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y).

Schumer and Baldwin, joined by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), are working to get 10 Republicans who’d support the bill. They’re betting senators “who have LGBTQ friends, family or staff and might be convinced to support the straightforward legislation based on their personal connections,” according to Politico.

Birth Control Access

The final ‘nay’ vote on the the Right to Contraception Act was 195; C-SPAN cut away before the end of the vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), the Right to Contraception Act, H.R. 8373, passed on Thursday by a vote of 228 to 195. Just eight Republicans—Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), John Katko (N.Y), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), Maria Salazar (Fla.) and Fred Upton (Mich.)—joined all House Democrats in support of the bill.

The future of the contraception access bill is not yet clear, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has said she would like to see contraception rights protected under federal law. 

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast "On the Issues With Michele Goodwin." Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.