US House poised to pass same-sex marriage bill, showing change in attitude

WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) – A bill protecting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, which has support from both LGBT advocates and religious groups, is expected to pass the U.S. House of Representatives this week with bipartisan support, a sign on a significant cultural shift in a divided nation.

House Democratic Leader-elect Hakeem Jeffries told reporters Tuesday that the long-awaited legislation should clear the House in the coming days.

Discussions among Democrats, Jeffries said, “will continue to bear fruit, as we will see later this week when we pass the Respect for Marriage Act and send it to the president’s desk to be signed into law.”

Democrats are rushing to pass as many bills as possible in the waning days of the 117th Congress before Republicans take majority control of the House on Jan. 3 when the new Congress convenes.

The bill, which passed the US Senate last week, was designed as a backstop to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, known as Obergefell v. Hodges.

The legislation would allow the federal government to continue to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages in states where they were legally performed should the court strike down Obergefell, a concern raised after the court ended the nationwide right to abortion in June.

A bipartisan amendment added in November affirmed that the bill would not undermine existing religious freedoms, helping quell initial opposition from conservatives. The bill, which was spearheaded by a group of Democratic and Republican senators, received support from several national religious groups.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, an American Baptist pastor and president of the Interfaith Alliance, said support for the bill from religious groups showed that many had undergone a “remarkable transformation” in the way they view same-sex marriage.

He attributed the shift in part to the fact that such marriages had ceased to be unusual in the United States since the Supreme Court legalized them.

“The sky didn’t fall because same-sex marriage started happening,” said Raushenbush, who is in a same-sex marriage herself. “The specter of same-sex couples getting married no longer feels scary because it’s quite common.”

The amendment’s support from various religious groups theologically opposed to same-sex marriage reflects the fact that attitudes have changed, said Tim Schultz, the president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, which advocates for religious freedom.

“Fighting a permanent culture war over gay rights is not in their interest as religious organizations,” he said. “They believe that seeking common ground is in the interest of religious freedom, the common good, and how they present their faith to the world.”

Other religious groups, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, strongly opposed the legislation, even after religious freedom protections were added.

“The ability of Baptist organizations to follow their consciences while doing their work has already been a source of conflict,” said Brent Leatherwood, chairman of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. ‚ÄúThose waters will only get muddier [the law].”

Several conservative senators pushed back against that characterization of the bill, which ultimately won support from a dozen Republicans.

The legislation “offers far more protection of religious freedom than currently exists under Obergefell, which leaves all such decisions up to the courts,” Republican Sen. Todd Young wrote in a newspaper op-ed declaring his support for the bill last week.

The vote comes a day after the Supreme Court appeared poised to rule that a Christian web designer has the right to refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages, in arguments challenging a Colorado law that bans discrimination.

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington, Julia Hart and Joseph Ax in New York Editing by Scott Malone, Matthew Lewis and Alistair Bell

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