US Senate passes bipartisan bill protecting same-sex marriage | LGBTQ News

The Respect for Marriage Act was passed by the United States Senate with a vote of 61 to 36. This bill would provide federal protections for interracial and same-sex marriages.

Twelve Republicans joined the 49 Democrats present in supporting the landmark piece of legislation, which prohibits states from denying “out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin”.

The bill also “repeals and replaces” any federal language that defines marriage as between individuals of the opposite sex.

Tuesday’s bipartisan victory comes in the final weeks of the Democratic-controlled Congress. Now, the bill is back in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is set to switch to Republican leadership on January 3, when the 118th Congress is sworn into office.

In a speech minutes before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, applauded the bill’s bipartisan support, saying he planned to call his daughter and her wife to celebrate.

“For millions of Americans, today is a very good day. An important day. A day that’s been a long time in coming,” Schumer said.

“The long but inexorable march towards greater equality advances forward. By passing this bill, the Senate is sending a message that every American needs to hear: No matter who you are or who you love, you too deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law.”

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gathers with Democrats for a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the Respect for Marriage Act [Sarah Silbiger/Reuters]

But in the hours before Tuesday’s vote, Senate Republicans like James Lankford of Oklahoma raised fears the Respect for Marriage Act would curtain religious freedom in the US and proposed additional amendments to the bill.

“Is today about respecting the rights of all, or is it about silencing some and respecting others?” Lankford said.

Gallup polls revealed that the support for same-sex marriage had reached a record high at 70 percent in 2021. Gallup’s first ever Gallup poll showed that 55 percent of Republicans were in favor of same-sex marital, which was a record.

“Current federal law does not reflect the will or beliefs of the American people in this regard,” Ohio Republican Rob Portman said in a speech in support of the Respect for Marriage Act on November 16. “The current statute allows states and governments to refuse valid same-sex marriages.”

The Supreme Court’s Obergefell v Hodges decision has made it possible for gay couples to get married since 2015. But laws like the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which defined marriage as between “one man and one woman” and denied federal recognition to same-sex couples — remained on the books, though unenforceable.

Although the Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t codify the Obergefell ruling it would repeal laws like The Defense of Marriage Act. It would mandate that all states recognize legal marriages wherever they are performed, and that existing same-sex unions be protected.

The current push to pass the Respect for Marriage Act came in the wake of June’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned a half-century of protections for abortion access.

Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, cited Dobbs’ decision Monday in a Senate session as a motivation to vote for the bill.

“Some members of this body have questioned why we need to pass this bill when marriage equality is the law of the land,” Wyden said. “The answer is pretty straightforward. The Dobbs ruling, which overturned Roe versus Wade, showed that the Senate cannot take any modern legal precedent for granted.”

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in Dobbs’ decision. He denied that the ruling would have any effect on precedents made by courts outside of abortion.

But a concurring opinion, submitted by Justice Clarence Thomas, suggested the court should “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents”, naming the 2015 Obergefell decision among them.

On July 19, just weeks following the Dobbs decision, House Democrats passed the Respect for Marriage Act with the support of 47 Republicans – a surprise bipartisan vote that signalled an apparent split in Republicans’ stance towards same-sex marriage.

Top House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise, opposed the bill, while the number-three Republican, New York’s Elise Stefanik, voted in favour.

Us Senator Susan Collins Surrounded By Reporters In Halls Of Congress
Susan Collins (US Senator) was seen Tuesday voting for the Respect for Marriage Act. [Sarah Silbiger/Reuters]

After Passing the House, the Respect for Marriage Act was met with stiff opposition in the evenly divided Senate. There, 60 votes were required for a victory over a filibuster.

In an attempt to ease the pressure on Republicans and gain more bipartisan support, Senate Democrats delayed voting on the bill until after the US had held its midterm elections. Republicans wanted multiple amendments to the bill to protect religious liberty.

The Tuesday bill passed with language that specifically prohibited polygamous marriages. This ensured that the bill could not be used to deny or target government benefits, such as tax-exempt status based on religious belief. On Monday, 12 Republicans voted in favor of the amended bill in a test vote.

Religious groups also offered support for the bill, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which applauded the bill for its “religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters”.

“It’s notable that the Senate is having this debate to begin with,” Schumer said on Monday. “A decade ago, it would have strained all of our imaginations to envision both sides talking about protecting the rights of same-sex married couples.”

But Tuesday’s vote was preceded by further proposed amendments to the bill, from Senators including Lankford and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

Portman, a Republican, asked his party to support Tuesday’s Respect for Marriage Act. He dismissed as “false” concerns the bill would make “institutions and individuals trying to live according to their sincerely held beliefs” vulnerable to litigation.

The bill, Portman said, “reflects a national policy that respects diverse beliefs about the role of gender and marriage, while also protecting the rights of same-sex marriage couples”.

Another Republican, Wyoming’s Cynthia Lummis, told the Senate that, while she believes “God’s word as to the definition of marriage”, she would support the Respect for Marriage Act.

“These are turbulent times for our nation,” Lummis said, citing an increase in heated rhetoric. “We do well by taking this step, not embracing or validating each other’s devoutly held views, but by the simple act of tolerating them.”

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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