Respect for Marriage Act: Senate passes bill protecting same-sex marriages; House approval comes next

WASHINGTON– The Senate on Tuesday passed a bipartisan law protecting same-sex marriages, an extraordinary sign of a shift in national policy on the issue and some relief for the hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples who have been legalized since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage , have married marry nationwide.

The bill, which would ensure same-sex and interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law, passed Tuesday by a vote of 61 to 36. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation was “a long time coming” and is part of America’s “difficult but unstoppable march toward greater equality.”

Democrats are moving fast, while the party still holds a majority in both houses of Congress, to send the bill to the House of Representatives and then, they hope, to President Joe Biden’s desk. The bill has steadily gained momentum since the Supreme Court’s June decision that overturned federal abortion rights, a ruling that included a unanimous opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that same-sex marriages may also be at risk. Bipartisan Senate negotiations got a boost this summer when 47 Republicans unexpectedly voted in favor of a House bill, giving supporters renewed optimism.

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The legislation would not force any state to allow same-sex couples to marry. But it would require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were contracted and to protect current same-sex partnerships if the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges would be rescinded.

It’s a stunning bipartisan endorsement and a testament to societal change after years of bitter division on the issue.

The law would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

A new law protecting same-sex marriages would be a major victory for Democrats as they relinquish their two-year consolidated power in Washington, and a massive win for proponents who have been pushing for federal legislation for decades. It comes as the LGBTQ community has faced violent attacks, like last weekend’s shooting at a Colorado gay nightclub that killed five and injured at least 17.

“Our community really needs a win, we’ve been through a lot,” said Kelley Robinson, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, which works on LGBTQ issues. “As a queer person who’s married, I feel relieved right now. I know my family is safe.”

For many senators, too, the vote was personal. Schumer said Tuesday that wearing the tie he wore to his daughter’s wedding was “one of the happiest moments of my life.” He also recalled the “harrowing conversation” he had with his daughter and her wife in September 2020 when they heard that Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. “Could our right to marry be reversed?” they asked at the time.

With Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Ginsburg, the court has now ruled Roe v. Wade and federal abortion rights were overturned and concerns raised over Obergefell and other court-protected rights. But sentiment regarding same-sex marriage has changed, with more than two-thirds of the public now supporting it.

Still, Schumer said it was remarkable that the Senate even held the debate after years of Republican opposition. “A decade ago it would have stretched all our imaginations to imagine both sides talking about protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” he said.

The passage came after the Senate rejected three Republican amendments to protect the rights of religious institutions and others still opposed to such marriages. Supporters of the law argued that these changes were unnecessary as the bill had already been amended to clarify that it would not affect any individual or business rights currently enshrined in law. The bill would also clarify that marriage is between two people, an attempt to deflect some far-right criticism that the legislation may support polygamy.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who has campaigned for his fellow GOP senators for months to support the bill, pointed to the number of religious groups supporting the bill, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of these groups were part of the bipartisan change negotiations.

“They see this as a step forward for freedom of religion,” says Tillis.

The nearly 17-million-member Utah denomination said in a statement this month that church doctrine continues to view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments. Still, it said it would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they don’t violate the right of religious groups to believe what they want.

Most Republicans still oppose the law because they believe it is unnecessary, citing concerns about religious freedom. And some conservative groups have been ramping up opposition in recent weeks, urging Republican supporters to change their votes.

“As I and others have argued for years, marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, conjugal union between a man and a woman, and any deviation from that concept undermines the indispensable goal of having every child raised in a stable home by a mother and father who fathered him,” wrote Roger Severino, vice president of domestic affairs for the Heritage Foundation, in a recent blog post opposing the law.

In an effort to win the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a 50-50 Senate filibuster, Democrats delayed consideration until after the midterm elections in hopes it would ease political pressure on the potentially faltering GOP senators would decrease.

Eventual support from 12 Republicans gave Democrats the votes they needed.

Along with Tillis, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman were early supporters of the bill and have lobbied their GOP peers to support it. Also Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Cynthia voted in two test votes for the legislation Lummis of Wyoming and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan from Alaska.

Lummis, one of the more conservative members of the Senate, spoke before the final vote about her “rather brutal search for her own soul” before backing the bill. She said she accepts her church’s beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman, but noted that the country is founded on the separation of church and state.

“We do well to take this step, not by embracing or affirming each other’s pious views, but by simply tolerating them,” Lummis said.

The GOP’s growing support for the issue is in sharp contrast to just a decade ago, when many Republicans were vocal against same-sex marriage.

Tammy Baldwin, a senator from Wisconsin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has worked on gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said this month that the newfound openness of many Republicans on the issue “takes them to the bow of the LBGTQ” remember movement starting in the early days when people weren’t out yet and people knew gay people through myths and stereotypes.”

Baldwin, the Senate lead negotiator for the legislation, said hearts and minds have changed as more individuals and families have become visible.

“And slowly laws followed,” she said. “It’s history.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Respect for Marriage Act: Senate passes bill protecting same-sex marriages; House approval comes next

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