On December 8, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-169 to pass the controversial “Respect for Marriage Act” when all the Democrats and 39 Republicans voted for it. The same bill passed the U.S. Senate on November 29 by a 61-36 margin; all Democrats and 12 Republicans supported it there. Having passed both houses of Congress, the measure now heads to President Biden for his signature to make it a law.
Many questioned the timing of the bill’s passage, during the lame duck period in the waning days of the 117th Congress, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas when most people’s attention is distracted by holiday activities.
Supporters claimed the bill is necessary for the federal government to redefine marriage. This is to guarantee interracial and same-sex couples will always be able to be legally married in any state of the nation. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has already declared same-sex couples the right to marry, supporters said a law is needed to cement the right. Moreover, public opinion has moved drastically in this direction in the past decade or so.
Opponents claimed the bill is unnecessary, since the U.S. Supreme Court already declared the right to a same-sex marriage in its controversial 2015 Obergefell opinion, and no one is aware of any opposition to interracial marriages. Moreover, some civil libertarians view this as a veiled threat to religious institutions and business owners.
This column, which Facebook censored from publication, examines some of the First Amendment concerns surrounding the bill. This column examines a concern that the law may be used first against Virginia’s Liberty University.
The three Republican Congressmen who represent the western half of the Commonwealth voted against the bill. Rep. Ben Cline of Lexington represents the 6th District, which is anchored in the Roanoke Valley to the south and runs up the Shenandoah Valley/I-81 corridor to Winchester. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Salem represents the 9th District that goes from the far southwest corner of Virginia to Cave Spring and Smith Mountain Lake. Bob Good represents the 5th District that runs from the North Carolina line up to the outskirts of Northern Virginia. Ironically, the 5th District encompasses some of the most politically opposite regions of the state: the deeply conservative Liberty University/Lynchburg area and the staunchly liberal UVA/Charlottesville locale.
Since all members of the House of Representatives serve two year terms, all three will be up for re-election in 2024.
Virginia’s two Democrat U.S. Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, followed all their Democrat colleagues in approving the bill. In their public announcements and press releases, both men make frequent mention of “equality” as being among their top priorities.
With a net worth of some $300 million, Warner is the wealthiest member of the Senate. Kaine serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Since senators serve staggered, six-year terms, Sen. Kaine also faces re-election in 2024 and Warner in 2026.