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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House gave final approval Thursday to legislation protecting same-sex marriages, a monumental step in a decadeslong battle for nationwide recognition that reflects a stark turnaround in societal attitudes.
The bill is a relief for hundreds of thousands of couples who have married since the Supreme Court's 2015 decision that legalized those marriages and have worried about what would happen if the ruling — like the Roe v . Wade abortion decision that 50 years ago legalized abortions — were overturned.
President Joe Biden has said he will promptly sign the measure, which requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages. In a statement, Biden called the legislation a "critical step to ensure that Americans have the right to marry the person they love." He said the legislation provides "hope and dignity to millions of young people across this country who can grow up knowing that their government will recognize and respect the families they build."
The bipartisan legislation, which passed 258-169 with 39 Republican votes, would also protect interracial unions by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin." After months of negotiations, the Senate passed the bill last week with 12 Republican votes.
In the House, Iowa Republicans U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson of Marion and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa, along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines, supported the bill. Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra of Hull opposed it. Hinson said she voted yes but argued it wasn’t needed.
“This bill maintains the status quo,” she said in a statement. “We should be focused on reducing inflation, securing our border, and restoring American energy independence — these are the issues Iowans talk to me about every day and want Congress to prioritize.”
Last month in the U.S. Senate, Iowa Republicans were split. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst voted for the bill, while U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley voted no, saying it would put people’s religious beliefs at risk and said the right to same-sex marriage wasn’t being threatened.
Democrats moved the bill quickly through the House and Senate after the Supreme Court's decision in June that overturned the federal right to an abortion, including a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage could also be reconsidered.
While many Republicans predicted that was unlikely to happen, and said the bill was unnecessary, Democrats and GOP supporters said it shouldn't be left to chance.
"We need it," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who presided over the vote as one of her last acts in leadership before stepping aside in January. "It is magic."
In debate before the vote, several gay members of Congress talked about what a federal law would mean for them and their families. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said he and his husband should be able to visit each other in the hospital just like any other married couple and receive spousal benefits "regardless of if your spouse's name is Samuel or Samantha."
Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., said he was set to marry "the love of my life" next year and it is "unthinkable" that his marriage someday might not be recognized in some states.
The legislation lost some Republican support since July, when 47 Republicans voted for it — an unexpected show of support that kick-started serious negotiations in the Senate. But most of those lawmakers held firm, with a cross section of the party voting for the bill. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy voted against it.
"To me this is really just standing with the Constitution," said Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, who voted for the bill both times. She pushed back on arguments that it would affect the religious rights of those who don't believe in same-sex marriage.
"No one's religious liberties are affected in any way, shape or form," Wagner said.
The legislation would not require states to allow same-sex couples to marry, as Obergefell now does. But it would require states to recognize marriages that were legal where they were performed and protect current unions if the decision were overturned.
While it's not everything advocates wanted, passage of the legislation represents a watershed moment. Just a decade ago, many Republicans campaigned on blocking same-sex marriages; today more than two-thirds of the public support them.
Still, most Republicans opposed the legislation and some conservative advocacy groups lobbied aggressively against it in recent weeks, arguing that it doesn't do enough to protect those who want to refuse services for same-sex couples.
"God's perfect design is indeed marriage between one man and one woman for life," said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va, before the vote. "And it doesn't matter what you think or what I think, that's what the Bible says."
Tom Barton of The Gazette contributed to this report.