Wisconsin Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher and Bryan Steil join Democrats in passing the same-sex marriage bill

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WASHINGTON – Wisconsin Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher and Bryan Steil joined House Democrats on Thursday in voting to codify same-sex marriage protections into law, breaking with the state's three other GOP congressmen.

The legislation, which also codifies interracial marriage protections, passed the House on a 258-169 vote after moving through the Senate last week with bipartisan support. Thirty-nine Republicans voted for the Respect for Marriage Act Thursday, down from the 47 who supported the measure when it initially passed the House in July.

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden's desk.

Gallagher previously opposed the bill during that summer vote, claiming he had concerns the bill would allow for polygamy. A bipartisan group of senators, led by Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, amended the measure to address that issue, as well as broader GOP concerns over religious freedom protections.

Reps. Bryan Steill, left, and Mike Gallagher were among 39 Republicans who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, breaking from the state's three other GOP congressmen.
Reps. Bryan Steill, left, and Mike Gallagher were among 39 Republicans who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, breaking from the state's three other GOP congressmen.

In a statement after the vote, Gallagher said the amended version of the bill addressed his concerns over polygamy and "creates strong religious liberty protections for religious organizations." He said the bill moves the issue of marriage to the states while ensuring decisions made in one state are honored in another.

"The Supreme Court found there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015. While the possibility of the decision being overturned is extremely low, that is not an excuse for Congress to ignore this issue," Gallagher said, referencing the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the country.

"It is far better for Congress to pass legislation that protects religious organizations and provides stability to the millions of people in a same-sex marriage than to rely on federal judges to make these decisions."

The Respect for Marriage Act would require states to recognize marriages that are considered valid in the state where they were performed but would not mandate states to allow same-sex couples to marry, should the 2015 Obergefell decision be overturned. It would also repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Democrats had put a priority on passing the legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the decision guaranteeing abortion rights, after which Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should "reconsider" its previous due process precedents, including the Obergefell decision.

Steil's vote on Thursday was in-line with his July vote, when he was the only Wisconsin Republican to support the measure. Wisconsin Republican Congressmen Tom Tiffany, Glenn Grothman and Scott Fitzgerald voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, and Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson opposed it last week.

“It really just maintains the status quo," Steil told WISN-TV earlier this week. "This is the political bickering I think that people are so frustrated with. This is the home stretch of one-party Democratic control. But ultimately, it doesn’t alter state law and it just maintains the status quo.”

Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, has led the push to pass the Respect for Marriage Act. She praised the House passage of the bill on Thursday.

"This is an important and historic step forward in ensuring dignity and respect for all Americans," Baldwin said in a joint statement with Arizona Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Thillis of North Carolina.

Follow Lawrence Andrea on Twitter @lawrencegandrea.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil vote for Respect for Marriage Act