The US House of representatives gave final passage on Thursday, December 8 to a landmark legislation protecting same-sex marriage, in a bipartisan vote that reflects a remarkable shift in public opinion just over 25 years after Congress defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The final vote was 258 to 169, with 39 Republican members joining every House Democrat in supporting the bill. One Republican, Burgess Owens of Utah, voted present.
The vote was one of the final acts of the House controlled by Nancy Pelosi before the balance of power shifts and Republicans take control of the House in January.
The bill, which provides a degree of relief for hundreds of thousands of same-sex married couples in the US, will now go to Joe Biden, who has said he will sign the legislation “promptly and proudly”.
“Today, Congress took a critical step to ensure that Americans have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said.
“The House’s bipartisan passage of the Respect for Marriage Act – by a significant margin – will give peace of mind to millions of LGBTQI+ and interracial couples who are now guaranteed the rights and protections to which they and their children are entitled.”
The historic legislation, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, requires federal and state governments to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages, prohibiting them from denying the validity of a marriage legally performed in another state on the basis of sex, race or ethnicity.
During the bill enrollment ceremony, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wiped tears from her eyes as she thanked the many lawmakers and advocates who made the legislation a reality.
“At last we have history in the making,” Pelosi said. “Not only are we on the right side of history, we’re on the right side of the future: expanding freedom in America.”
The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, heralded the legislation as a “very important step forward” in the nation’s “long but inexorable march towards greater equality”. Like many Americans, the issue of marriage equality is personal for Schumer. His daughter and her wife are expecting their first child next year.
“Today, thanks to the tireless advocacy of many, many in this room and the dogged work by many of my colleagues, my grandchild will live in a world that will respect and honor their mothers’ marriage,” Schumer said at the enrollment ceremony.