Same-sex marriage bill clears key Senate hurdle
WASHINGTON (AP) – Legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriage cleared a major Senate hurdle Wednesday, putting Congress on track to take the historic step of ensuring such unions are enshrined in federal law.
Twelve Republicans voted with all Democrats to move forward on the bill, meaning a final vote could come this week or later this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill to ensure unions are legally recognized under the law is a chance for the Senate to “live up to its highest ideals” and protect marriage equality for all people.
“It will make our country a better, fairer place to live,” Schumer said, noting that his own daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.
Senate Democrats are moving quickly to pass legislation while the party still controls the House. Republicans won the majority in the House on Wednesday and is unlikely to address the issue next year.
In a statement after the vote, President Joe Biden said he would sign the bill when it passed.
“Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said.
The bill has gained steady momentum since the Supreme Court’s decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion. Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion at the time suggested that the high court’s earlier decision was protective same-sex marriage may also be compromised.
The bill would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they took place. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.”
Congress has moved to protect same-sex marriage as support from the general public — and Republicans in particular — has surged in recent years since the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision legalized gay marriage nationwide. Recent polls have shown that more than two-thirds of citizens support same-sex unions.
Still, many Republicans in Congress were reluctant to support the legislation, and many said it was unnecessary while marriages were still protected by the courts. Democrats deferred consideration until after the midterms, hoping to ease political pressure on some GOP senators who may be wavering.
The proposed amendment to the bill, negotiated by supporters to include more Republicans, would clarify that it does not affect the rights of private individuals or businesses already enshrined in the law. Another tweak would make it clear that marriage is between two people, an attempt to fend off some far-right criticism that the law could support polygamy.
Three Republicans said early they would support the bill and lobbied their GOP colleagues to support it: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. They argued that there was still value in enshrining the right to such marriages even if the courts did not invalidate them.
“Current federal law does not reflect the will or beliefs of the American people,” Portman said ahead of the vote. “It’s time for the Senate to address that issue.”
In the end, nine of their GOP colleagues joined them in voting for it, bringing the total to twelve and providing enough votes needed to overcome the 50-50 Senate impasse. Other Republicans who voted for the bill were 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, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan from Alaska.
The GOP’s growing support for the issue is a stark contrast from even a decade ago, when many Republicans vocally opposed same-sex marriage. Legislation passed the House on the July ballot with the support of 47 Republicans — a larger-than-expected number that gave the measure a boost in the Senate.
On Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the last conservative group to support the bill. In a statement, the Utah-based faith said church doctrine would continue to hold that same-sex relationships are against God’s commandments, but would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they do not infringe on the right of religious groups to believe as they choose.
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has worked on gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said the newfound openness of many Republicans on the issue reminds her “of the beginning of the LBGTQ movement with, in the early days when people weren’t coming out and people knew gay people by myths and stereotypes.”
Baldwin said hearts and minds changed as more individuals and families became visible.
“And slowly the laws began to be applied,” she said. “That’s history.”
Schumer said that it was a personal issue for him as well.
“Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staff, including myself,” Schumer said. “My daughter and her wife are actually expecting a baby in February. So it’s very important for a lot of us to do this.”
Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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