On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted to advance a bill that would ensure same-sex marriages continue to be recognized as valid by both federal and state governments, even if the U.S. Supreme Court should reverse its previous rulings on the issue.
Senators voted 62-37 to move forward with the bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act. Twelve GOP senators voted with Democrats to begin up to 30 hours of debate on the bill before it receives a final vote. The support of the GOP senators allowed the bill to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a silent filibuster by opponents of same-sex marriage, who otherwise could have blocked the bill indeterminately.
The Republicans voting to advance the same-sex marriage bill were:
After the 30 hours of debate are finished, the Senate must vote to end debate on the bill, which requires another 60 votes, before the bill can receive final approval by the upper chamber, which only requires 51 for passage.
The vote came after a group of five senators, who had been lobbying their colleagues behind the scenes, introduced an amendment to the bill outlining a host of religious liberty protections for churches and religious nonprofits from having to perform same-sex marriages or provide services, facilities, or goods for such unions. The amendment also clarified that the federal government is not required to recognize polygamous marriages.
The legislation also received a boost after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out in support of the revised bill with religious liberty protections. The church has previously backed “compromise” legislation in Utah that expanded nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals while also providing protections for people who choose to oppose or speak out against LGBTQ rights on religious grounds.
“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church said in a statement. “As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had previously delayed a vote on the bill, scheduled for September, until after the November midterm elections in order to give GOP supporters, especially those up for re-election, enough time and space needed to throw their support behind the bill without being subjected to additional pressure from opponents of same-sex marriage.
“Today, the Senate is taking a truly bold step forward in the march toward greater justice, greater equality, by advancing the Respect for Marriage Act,” Schumer said in a speech prior to the vote, according to CBS News. “It’s a simple, narrowly tailored but exceedingly important piece of legislation that will do so much good for so many Americans. It will make our country a better, fairer place to live.”
Backers of the bill say it’s necessary to ensure same-sex couples have their marriages recognized by state and federal governments and are not denied any of the thousands of benefits that stem from marriage that are automatically bestowed upon heterosexual married couples.
Equality advocates have also cited a recent Supreme Court decision involving abortion rights, in which the high court reversed its own precedent and allowed state-level bans on abortion to take effect once again, as justification for the Respect for Marriage Act, arguing that the courts cannot be trusted to uphold existing rights due to justices’ personal ideologies and prejudices. As such, they argue, Congress must pass a law explicitly recognizing same-sex unions as valid.
If ultimately passed by the Senate, the amended bill would have to go back to the U.S. House of Representatives for final approval in the few remaining weeks of the lame-duck session, leaving a limited window for action. Because Democrats still control the House until January, the bill is expected to pass, at the very least, on a party-line vote. But given that 47 Republican House members previously voted for an earlier version of the Respect for Marriage Act, some political observers are curious to see whether the additional protections for religious liberty may sway additional GOP caucus members to back the measure.
While some LGBTQ advocates are disappointed that the bill does not go further, the majority have viewed the Respect for Marriage Act as a positive development and urged its passage.
“Any Senator who votes against this bill is casting a vote that harms LGBTQ Americans and is out of touch with a bipartisan supermajority of Americans who support the freedom to marry,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, said in a statement.
“Since the first legal marriages for same-sex couples took place in 2004, marriage equality has improved the lives of countless LGBTQ people and their families,” Ellis added. “As extremist politicians push anti-LGBTQ playbooks on the state level and right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices overturn other legal precedent, the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act is an opportunity for our leaders to come together to send a message of equal treatment for everyone. All married couples, including same-sex and interracial couples, are worthy of dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law.”
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