House gay-marriage vote
By a vote of 267 to 157, the House of Representatives last week passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which declares that marriages performed in one state must be recognized in all states, without respect to "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin." It also codifies same-sex marriages for the purpose of benefits under federal law.
The legislation still needs to get through the Senate, which is unlikely before the August recess. Nonetheless, the House's move to provide federal recognition of gay marriages — with the support of 47 Republicans — is a breakthrough worth celebrating. In addition to validating the country's progress on gay rights, the vote signals that lawmakers may finally be embracing their responsibility to tackle social issues through the legislative process, rather than leaving the task to the courts.
Congress previously addressed the issue of gay marriage in 1996, when it passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which former President Bill Clinton signed into law. That legislation defined marriage as between one man and one woman and banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court subsequently overruled DOMA, requiring states to recognize gay marriages sanctioned in other states and declaring gay couples eligible for the same federal benefits as straight people. However, the federal statute remained on the books. Thus, DOMA could have been reinstated if the conservative high court opted to overturn its prior gay marriage rulings.
Democratic lawmakers have also promptly introduced bills to codify protections on sodomy laws, gay marriage, and contraception — in part as "message" votes to energize their base and embarrass Republicans, who they assumed would block such bills. On gay marriage, however, nearly one-quarter of the House Republican conference voted in favor, and there's a realistic prospect of finding the 10 Republicans necessary to produce the 60 votes to guarantee Senate passage.
The bipartisan passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is a heartening sign that Congress is still capable of doing its job. Better late than never.