Opinion: Clarence Thomas gets Congress to act on same-sex marriage

It was only 10 years ago that Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and many other prominent Democrats tip-toed around the issue of same-sex marriage — worried by the political ramifications of declaring in public that they supported the idea.

Now Congress is ready to give final approval to a bill that would offer federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, capping what’s been a dramatic change in political and public opinion.

The Senate approved the measure this week on a vote of 61-36. The House is expected to follow suit on Tuesday.

“It’s 2022 y’all,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta. “Same-sex and interracial couples shouldn’t have to live in fear of states denying them the right to marry.”

As the Senate voted this week to squelch a filibuster, the crucial votes were delivered by a dozen Republican Senators who broke ranks to support this measure.

“Democrats and Republicans came together to advance human freedom,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.

Ironically, the person most responsible for this marriage legislation may be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Back in June, when the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, Thomas used his concurring opinion to call for the Court to invalidate landmark rulings that protected contraception, same-sex consensual relations, and same-sex marriage.

Thomas bluntly wrote, “we have a duty to ‘correct the error’” established in those precedents.

Unlike the Roe v. Wade decision — which Congress never seriously tried to codify into federal law — the Thomas remarks set off alarm bells, as lawmakers worried about a repeat on same-sex marriage.

“He was essentially providing an open invitation to litigators across the country to bring their cases to the Court,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., the first openly gay member elected to the Senate, who spearheaded the marriage bill.

The final deal was hatched on a bipartisan basis after several months of talks in the Senate, but action was delayed until after the elections to protect Republicans from any backlash.

While GOP critics argued in vain that the bill would endanger religious freedom, the measure has drawn support from organizations such as the Mormon Church — which still believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church stated, arguing the bill preserves ‘the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.’

In the end, supporters of this effort say their original message from decades ago on marriage still rings true today.

“If you don’t like gay marriage,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., “don’t get one.”

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com