The Senate took an historic step Tuesday, passing legislation that would enshrine same-sex marriage rights into law and grant gay unions federal protection.
The vote to pass the Respect for Marriage Act was bipartisan – 61 to 36 – with a significant bloc of Republicans joining every Democrat in approving the landmark bill. It now heads to the House where it’s expected to pass as early as next week.
Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person to serve in the Senate, said its passage should allay the concerns of same-sex and interracial couples worried their civil marriage could be stripped away.
“The Senate has the opportunity to put those fears to rest and give millions of people in same sex and interracial marriages the certainty, dignity and respect that they need and deserve,” she said before the vote.
Senators approved the bill in response to concerns the Supreme Court – with a 6-3 conservative majority – would reverse its 2015 decision recognizing the legitimacy of gay marriage just as it overturned in June the roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion access.
“With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”
A number of Republicans argued the bill would trample on the rights of churches and other faith-based organizations which would be punished if they refused to participate in or recognize gay unions. But bipartisan sponsors of the bill said the religious freedom language inserted in the measure would protect those entities from such infringements.
- The Respect for Marriage Act would guarantee federal recognition of any marriage between two people if the union was valid in the state where they married.
- It now moves to the House, which approved a similar bill earlier this year with nearly 50 Republicans in support. A vote in the House could take place as early as next Tuesday.
- The bill was drafted in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade this summer and Justice Clarence Thomas expressed interest in next reconsidering same-sex and interracial marriage rights.
In an effort to show the bill would not destroy religious liberty as some Republicans content, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said the Respect for Marriage Act listed several faith-based organizations who have endorsed the amended measure including: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish congregations.
“The leader of one religious group recently wrote that our legislation as amended sends a strong bipartisan message to Congress, the administration and the public that LGTBQ rights can coexist with religious protections,” she said.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford introduced another amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act saying the current version of the legislation does not protect the religious liberty of all Americans.
He raised concerns that it would result in lawsuits related to what defines a partnership.
“I encourage everyone in this body to ask a very simple question of themselves: Is today about respecting the rights of all or is it about silencing some and respecting others?” he said.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman urged his colleagues to provide bipartisan support to pass the Respect for Marriage Act.
Portman pushed back against conservative critics, saying the bill would protect people of faith as well as same-sex married couples.
“The American people want us to settle this issue and millions of American couples who are married, including many in Ohio, are counting on us to recognize and protect their marriage and give them peace of mind,” he said.
Three Republican senators introduced amendments to the Respect for Marriage Act Thursday afternoon that seek to protect religious freedoms beyond what the bill allows. Utah Sen. Mike Lee introduced one amendment to minimize threats to religious organizations and individuals.
Lee said religious organizations, schools and small businesses would be harmed by the bill which requires states that do not recognize the legitimacy of gay marriage to accept same-sex couples who have legally wedded in another state. He said his amendment would prohibit the federal government from discrimination against these entities based on religious beliefs.
“Rabbis, Imans, pastors should never be forced to perform a marriage contrary to their beliefs,” Lee said.
For Chuck Schumer, today’s vote in the Senate to enshrine gay marriage is more than just a legislative victory, it’s a personal triumph as well.
The Senate majority leader’s youngest daughter, Allison, married her wife in 2018 – a union that once seemed ironclad but that came into this summer when the US Supreme Court reversed precedent on abortion access when it overturned Roe. v. Wade. Other precedents, including the court’s 2015 decision recognizing gay marriage, suddenly seemed at risk as well, Schumer said.
“It’s a scary but necessary acknowledgment that, despite all the progress we’ve made, the constitutional right to same-sex marriage is not even a decade old, and exists only by the virtue of a very narrow 5-4 Supreme Court decision, he said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And we all know the court has changed since that decision. As we have already seen this year, what the court has decided in the past can be easily taken away in the future.”
Schumer, sporting the same purple tie he wore at his daughter’s wedding, said the first call he’ll make once the bill passes will be to Allison, who is expecting a baby this spring.
“I want them to raise their child with all the love and security that every child deserves,” he said, choking up. “And the bill we are passing today will ensure their rights won’t be trampled upon simply because they’re in a same-sex marriage.”
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The Senate Monday cleared the way for the bill while also providing a layer of religious freedom, setting up final passage of the Respect for Marriage on Tuesday.
The chamber voted 61-35 to defeat a filibuster that would have prevented the bill from moving forward.
If approved, individuals or groups would not be legally required to provide services for a wedding ceremony or celebration if it’s against their religious beliefs. It also would not recognize polygamous unions.
–Savannah Kuchar and Ledge King
Senate advances bill Monday:Senate advances same-sex marriage bill that also includes religious freedom protections
The bill would guarantee federal recognition of any marriage between two individuals if the union was valid in the state where it was performed.
It would also require states to accept the legitimacy of a valid marriage performed elsewhere but not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its own law.
Individuals or groups would not be legally required to provide services for a wedding ceremony or celebration if it’s against their religious beliefs. It also would not recognize polygamous unions.
–Savannah Kuchar and Ledge King
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism