Richmond Times-Dispatch: House likely to pass bill to ensure recognition of same-sex, interracial marriages

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is elated by the prospect of ensuring nationwide recognition of marriage equality in legislation that passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and is likely to pass the House of Representatives early next week.

But Kaine had one regret after joining with other members of the Virginia congressional delegation in the House chamber on Tuesday afternoon for a moment of silence to honor Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, who died suddenly on Monday night.

“Donald would really have liked to have cast this vote,” he said during a news briefing on Wednesday. “He was a proud civil rights champion, an attorney, a passionate believer in equal rights, a passionate believer in marriage equality.”

While McEachin voted for an earlier version of the bill in the House, Kaine said, “He would have found particularly sweet being able to be a part of voting ‘yes’ on the Respect for Marriage Act, and I feel a sense of loss in that.”

The Respect for Marriage Act would ensure that all states recognize legally performed marriages, including those between the same gender or different races. The legislation also would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law stating marriage is between only one man and one woman, as Virginia’s Constitution also does under a 2006 amendment that Democrats in the General Assembly are trying again to reverse.

Same-sex marriage is currently protected by U.S. Supreme Court precedent under Obergefell v. Hodges, a 2015 ruling that found a ban on those marriages to be unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Similarly, interracial marriages are protected by a 1966 high court ruling in Loving v. Virginia.

The Respect for Marriage Act is a response to the Supreme Court ruling this summer that overturned the constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade and suggested that the court would revisit and reverse similar precedents that had been reached under the due process clause.

“It would have been political malpractice after [the abortion ruling] for Congress to sleep on that,” said Kaine, a civil rights attorney before his political career. “We had to act.”

The response has been bipartisan, both in an earlier House vote of 267-157 to pass the law and a 61-36 vote in the Senate on Tuesday, with 12 Republican senators supporting an amended version that ensures no state would be required to conduct same-sex marriages if the court overturns the 2015 protection.

Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, strongly opposes the legislation, but he acknowledged on Wednesday that it is likely to pass because of Republican defections in voting for what he called “this unconscionable bill.”

Good first won office in 2020 after conservative Republicans ousted Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, for performing a wedding in 2019 between two men who had volunteered in his congressional campaign the previous year.

“The so-called ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ goes beyond the rejection of the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” he said in a statement on Wednesday to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “It is a dangerous and thinly veiled attempt to undermine the religious liberties of the American people and the faith-based institutions that serve our communities.”

Good won a second term in November to represent a newly drawn district that includes Powhatan, Goochland and part of Hanover counties, as well as Charlottesville and Lynchburg.

He said Republican votes for the legislation “all but assured this terrible assault on our First Amendment will be signed into law.”

That’s likely to happen before the end of next week, Kaine said.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, called on the House to quickly pass the law “to protect members of our communities from discrimination and protect the basic human dignity of millions of our fellow Americans.”

Spanberger currently represents parts of Henrico and Chesterfield counties, but she was re-elected this month in a redrawn district that will shift north in January to include eastern Prince William County and the Fredericksburg area.

In a statement on Tuesday night, she hailed the Senate vote to pass the “Respect for Marriage Act” and promised to vote “again and again, as many times as is necessary” to protect marriage equality.

“Same-sex and interracial couples are our neighbors, they are parents and grandparents, and they are dedicated members of our communities,” she said. “No one should discriminate against or deny legal protections to these Americans, simply based on who they love.”

If the House approves the revised legislation, as expected, it will go to President Joe Biden, who said Tuesday that he will “promptly and proudly sign it into law.”

The bipartisan achievement is the first significant action by Congress in a lame-duck session between the mid-term elections and the convening of a new Congress in January with Republicans holding a narrow majority in the House.

It may not be the last, with legislation to avert a rail strike already through the House and work underway for a budget agreement to avert a possible shutdown of the federal government after Dec. 16, when a continuing funding resolution will expire.

Kaine expects Congress to adopt a budget compromise that he said would include significant funding for economic development, public infrastructure and military construction projects in Virginia.

“We don’t want to lose those,” he said.

Kaine said Congress may need a few more days after the deadline to pass a budget deal, which is why he said he made no plans for Christmas for the first time in 10 years in the Senate. “We’re not going to shut the government down,” he promised.

He said he also would like to raise the federal debt ceiling now “just to take it off the table as a point of contention” in the new Congress. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is likely to become speaker, already has indicated he expects to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to deep cuts in spending.

Kaine acknowledged that he is in a minority in his own caucus on acting on the debt ceiling now, so “we’re likely to deal with the debt ceiling” next year.

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