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House Democrats tee up votes on same-sex marriage, contraception rights

Capitol Police remove abortion rights activists as they protest outside the Supreme Court on the last day of the court's term on June 30 in Washington. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The House is poised to vote this week on legislation that would enshrine marriage equality and access to contraception into federal law, as Democrats try to preemptively protect other rights that could be at risk after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had guaranteed the right to an abortion in the United States.

The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would require that someone be considered married in any state as long as the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. The bill would also repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman and allowed states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That law has remained on the books despite being declared unconstitutional by the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.

On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to vote on the Right to Contraception Act, which would “protect a person’s ability to access contraceptives and to engage in contraception, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.”

The two bills — and Democrats’ urgency in moving them — are the direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month. In his concurrence with that decision, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the high court should also examine previous rulings that legalized the right for married couples to buy and use contraception without government restriction (Griswold v. Connecticut), same-sex relationships (Lawrence v. Texas) and marriage equality (Obergefell v. Hodges).

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous’ … we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

“After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated,” he added.

With Roe v. Wade overturned, the legality of abortion has been left to the states. Some worry that access to certain types of contraception could be next. (Video: Julie Yoon, Hadley Green, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Rep. Kathy E. Manning (D-N.C.), who introduced the contraception bill last week, called Thomas’s concurring opinion “alarming” and “a rallying call to escalate attacks on access to contraceptives.”

“I will not stand idly by and watch extreme politicians obstruct women’s private health care choices and diminish reproductive freedom,” Manning said then.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) also criticized Thomas’s concurrence, calling it “draconian” and emphasizing that it was an impetus to act quickly on the Respect for Marriage Act, lest marriage equality be threatened by Republican-controlled state legislatures down the road.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said June’s actions of the Supreme Court have had a “devastating impact” already and informed their congressional agenda. Last week, the House passed two bills that would protect access to reproductive health care, including the ability to travel across state lines for an abortion.

“Again, more needs to be done,” Pelosi wrote. “This week, the House will pass two more bills to protect freedom in our nation, as extremist Justices and lawmakers take aim at more of our basic rights.”

The Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections on June 24. Now, where abortions can be legally performed is limited to mostly Democratic states. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Sarah Silbiger/The Washington Post)

Both bills are almost certain to pass the House but will probably run into opposition in the evenly divided Senate, where Republicans have the votes to filibuster both pieces of legislation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Monday said she would support the bill enshrining marriage equality into law, but several other GOP senators have recently said they believe the issue of same-sex marriage should be returned to the states as well.

The Biden administration has signaled that it strongly supports the passage of both bills. Asked Monday about recent comments from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in which he said the Supreme Court was “clearly wrong” about its 2015 Obergefell ruling, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said they should raise concerns.

“As we know from the Dobbs decision, one of the things that we saw from [Thomas] is that they are looking to go further, whether it’s privacy, contraception or marriage equality,” Jean-Pierre said. “You all know that this president has supported marriage equality for some time. This is something that he believes in. And this is something that he will continue to fight.”