Congress gave final approval Thursday for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill mandating federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriage.
The bill passed by a bipartisan vote of 258-169, a margin slightly smaller than the first House vote in July. The Respect for Marriage Act now advances to President Joe Biden’s desk, where it will almost certainly be signed into law.
Biden applauded the bill’s passage in a White House statement Thursday.
“Congress has restored a measure of security to millions of marriages and families,” the statement read. “They have also provided hope and dignity to millions of young people across this country who can grow up knowing that their government will recognize and respect the families they build.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) moved the legislation through Congress along with a small bipartisan group of lawmakers. The process took months of deliberation to move through Congress but eventually passed the U.S. Senate in a historic bipartisan vote of 61-36 last month.
Baldwin’s counterpart — Republican Sen. Ron Johnson — voted against the legislation. Johnson originally signaled he would support the Respect for Marriage Act when it was first introduced this summer but backtracked on his position in late August.
Sen. Baldwin was the first openly gay woman to be elected to the House in 1998 and the Senate in 2012. She is also the first woman from Wisconsin to be elected to either chamber.
“I think I might get a bit choked up. I already have been. I know it's gonna make a difference,” Baldwin told PBS Wisconsin when asked how she would react to Biden signing the bill into law.
The Respect for Marriage Act requires the federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex and interracial marriage licenses as long as they are legal in the state in which they were obtained. It repeals the 1990s-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which federally defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
The act does not guarantee the right to same-sex or interracial marriage in all states, as guaranteed in the U.S. Supreme Court cases Obergefell v. Hodges and Loving v. Virginia, respectively. Rather, it mandates states recognize same-sex or interracial marriage licenses legally obtained in another state.
Same-sex marriage has been fully legal in the United States since the historic 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell, which ruled the 14th Amendment requires all states to recognize same-sex marriage.
However, that case was called into question in June after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which repealed the near 50-year precedent of federal abortion rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.
“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion for the Dobbs case.
If the Obergefell ruling were overturned, same-sex marriage would likely be banned in Wisconsin due to preexisting law, according to Poynter.
However, the Respect for Marriage Act ensures Wisconsin and other states are required to recognize any legally-obtained same-sex marriage, even if Obergefell is overturned.
Baldwin remained proud of her work in a press release from Nov. 29.
“Millions of same-sex and interracial couples made this moment possible by living openly as their authentic selves, changing the hearts and minds of people around them,” Baldwin said. “This legislation will protect the hard-fought progress we’ve made on marriage equality and I look forward to the Respect for Marriage Act becoming the law of the land.”