Same-Sex Marriage Vote Shows Public Opinion Sea Change From 1996

  • Forty-seven Republicans side with Democrats for measure
  • Public support for same-sex marriage rose to 71% from 27%

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Public support for same-sex marriage has surged in the past generation — and federal lawmakers are following suit.

The House on Tuesday voted 267-157 for a bill (H.R. 8404), called the Respect for Marriage Act, that would enact federal protections for same-sex marriages. It also would formally repeal the 1996 law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and a woman.

The vote came 26 years to the month after the House voted 342-67 for DOMA with support from almost two-thirds of the House Democratic Caucus — including some prominent progressives serving in the 117th Congress — and all but one Republican.

The seismic shift, from most House Democrats backing DOMA a generation ago to the caucus unanimously supporting its repeal Tuesday, suggest Democrats collectively see federal protections for same-sex marriage as a political plus rather than the liability it seemed in 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law 45 days before he was re-elected. Tuesday’s vote underscored rising support for same-sex marriage in the years since — to a high of 71% this year from 27% in 1996, according to Gallup data.

(Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
A couple joined a mass gay wedding ceremony in front of the Texas Capitol in Austin a week following the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages in 2015.

The next step is the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech Wednesday that he wanted to bring the bill up “and we’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass.” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters it was “possible” 60 senators would support codifying the legality of same-sex marriage although he dismissed the legislative gambit as a political maneuver to deflect from other issues.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is a co-sponsor of the bill and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also will co-sponsor the legislation (S. 4556), his office said. Portman dropped his opposition to gay marriage in 2013 when he announced he has a gay son.

Senate Democrats Seek GOP Support on Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Hoyer’s Mistake

All House Democrats voted for the measure — including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), who were among the 118 House Democrats who voted for DOMA in 1996. Other Democrats who voted for DOMA include Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.).

In 2012, when public support for same-sex marriage eclipsed opposition, Hoyer said his vote was “probably a mistake” and one of his daughters publicly came out as a lesbian, according to the Associated Press.

Also that year, President Barack Obama announced that he supported same-sex marriage, reversing his earlier opposition. Obama’s public disclosure was catalyzed by his vice president, Joe Biden, saying days earlier that he was “absolutely comfortable” with such unions.

The bill was sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who faces Rep. Carolyn Maloney in an Aug. 23 primary in middle Manhattan after redistricting merged large parts of their districts. Both Nadler and Maloney voted against DOMA in 1996.

Republican Support

There were 47 Republican votes for H.R. 8404 — less than one-fourth of the House Republican Conference. In 1996, every House Republican voted for DOMA except for then-Rep. Steve Gunderson (Wis.), who at the time was the only openly gay Republican in Congress.

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer (Minn.) broke with most of their GOP colleagues to vote for the bill, while Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) voted no.

Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican since May 2021, was among eight Republicans who voted in 2019 for an anti-discrimination measure known as the Equality Act. She voted against a version of that bill in February 2021.

Of the six Republicans serving in the House today who voted for DOMA in 1996, two backed H.R. 8404 — Fred Upton (Mich.), who isn’t seeking re-election, and Ken Calvert (Calif.), who’s running for re-election in a more politically competitive district that was redrawn to include Palm Springs, which has a large LGBTQ community. Calvert’s Democratic opponent is Will Rollins, a former federal prosecutor who’s openly gay.

The measure also drew support from nine of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. The exception was Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), who’s in a primary on Aug. 2.

Cheney Switches

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who’s in a difficult primary Aug. 16 because of her opposition to Trump, voted for the marriage measure. In 2013, when Cheney began and withdrew a bid to run for the Senate, she said she was “not pro-gay marriage” and exposed an intra-family split on the issue with her lesbian sister, Mary, and their father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Other Republican supporters included Rep. Mike Garcia (Calif.), a conservative seeking re-election in a competitive district in northern Los Angeles County; Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar, both first-term Floridians from swing districts in the Miami area; Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), who’s trying to unseat Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in a strongly Democratic state that legalized same-sex marriage more than a decade ago; and the four Republicans who comprise Utah’s House delegation.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.), a first-term Republican who voted for the marriage equality measure, said she regretted her vote as a state legislator in 2011 against the New York law that legalized same-sex marriage.

“Every legislator has votes they regret, and to this day, that vote was one of the most difficult I’ve had to take,” Malliotakis said in a statement. “Over the past decade, I have attended two weddings of couples who deserve equal recognition and protection under the law.”

Zach C. Cohen in Washington also contributed to this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at; Robin Meszoly at

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