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What the Same-Sex Marriage Bill in Congress Would and Wouldn’t Do

Aerial Views Of Washington As White House Open To Extending Shutdown Deadline
Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
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The US Congress has moved a step closer to approving proposed legislation codifying the federal government’s embrace of same-sex marriage. The right to such unions is the law of the land throughout the US today but only because of a 2015 Supreme Court decision. And civil rights advocates fear that ruling is in danger of being reversed by today’s more conservative panel of justices. Should that happen, the proposed new law in Congress would maintain some of the rights of same-sex couples but would fall short of preserving the status quo.

When the conservative-leaning Supreme Court in June overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a constitutional right to an abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court should reconsider other “due process precedents.” He was referring to decisions in which the court has ruled that the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantee that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law” also protects rights that aren’t spelled out in the document, such as a right to privacy in sexual relations. Thomas specifically mentioned the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages and recognize such unions performed in other states. While there is no indication that the Supreme Court intends to follow Thomas’s suggestion, Democrats who lead both chambers of Congress vowed to pursue legislation protecting same-sex marriages.