J. Scott Applewhite/AP
WASHINGTON — The House is poised to vote to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, a direct confrontation with the Supreme Court, whose conservative majority in striking down abortion access Roe v. Wade raised concerns that other rights enjoyed by countless Americans could be at risk.
Tuesday’s vote in the House is part of a political strategy setting up an election-year roll call that will compel all lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, to publicly air their views on the far-reaching social issue. It’s also part of the legislative branch asserting its authority, fending off an aggressive court that seems determined to overhaul many established US laws.
“As this Court may target other fundamental rights, we cannot sit idly by,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, DN.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
While the Respect for Marriage Act is expected to pass the House, it will almost certainly stall in the Senate, where most Republicans would surely block it. It’s one of several bills, including those enshrining abortion access, that Democrats are pushing to take on the court’s conservative majority. Another bill, guaranteeing access to contraceptive services, is due to be voted on later this week.
The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal a law still in effect since the Clinton era that defines marriage as a heterogeneous relationship between a man and a woman. It would also provide legal protections for interracial marriages by prohibiting any state from denying out-of-state marriage licenses and benefits on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin.
The 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, had been essentially overridden by Obama-era court decisions, including Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the right of same-sex couples to marry nationwide, a landmark case for gay rights.
But last month, by removing the constitutional right to abortion from Roe v. Wade, the court’s conservative majority set up during the Trump era has left critics worried that there may be more to come.
Writing for the majority overturning Roe, Justice Samuel Alito argued for a narrower interpretation of the rights guaranteed to Americans, saying the right to abortion is not enshrined in the Constitution.
“We therefore believe that the Constitution does not confer the right to abortion,” Alito wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas went further, saying other rulings similar to Roe’s, including those regarding same-sex marriage and the right for couples to use contraception, should be reconsidered.
While Alito insisted in the majority opinion that “this decision is about the constitutional right to abortion and no other right”, others have taken notice.
Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and now running as a Democrat for the Ohio House, said after the court’s abortion ruling, “When we lose a right we relied on and enjoyed, other rights are at risk.”