(WASHINGTON) — The Senate is poised this week to pass landmark legislation to federally enshrine both same-sex and interracial marriage rights, amid what Democrats call a worry that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could overturn protections for both.
The first key test vote was Wednesday to start formal debate on the bill.
That procedural hurdle was cleared with a 62-37 vote, with 12 Republicans joining the 50-member Democratic caucus, setting the measure on a track to pass as early as Thursday, if opponents agree to give up their dissent early before lawmakers head out on the week-long Thanksgiving recess.
The 12 Republicans who voted yes were Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd Young of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“Individuals in same-sex marriages and interracial marriages need and deserve the confidence and the certainty that their marriages are legal and will remain legal,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., a lead co-sponsor of the bill and the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to Congress, has said. “These loving couples should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms as every other marriage.”
“I know passing the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staffs, myself included,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week. He noted his own daughter and her wife, who are married, are expecting a baby in February.
Schumer has argued that the concurring opinion issued by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas overturning Roe. v. Wade this summer, in which he said the court “should reconsider” the case granting the nationwide right to gay marriage, put the rights of LGBTQ Americans in jeopardy.
Other justices on the high court had taken pains to distance Thomas’ view from the majority opinion reversing Roe.
The Respect for Marriage Act would “require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed,” according to a summary from the bill’s sponsors, including Congress’ first openly bisexual woman in the Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., along with Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
The bill would not require any state to issue marriage licenses contrary to its laws but would mandate that states recognize lawfully granted marriages performed in other states, including same-sex and interracial unions.
For Portman, whose son came out to him as gay several years ago, it’s about giving people “security in their marriages.”
“It’s important to give people comfort that they won’t lose their rights as they move from state to state. It’s a pretty simple bill,” he previously said, adding that the American people have evolved to support the issue and Congress should too.
But ahead of Wednesday’s vote, some Republicans called the legislation unnecessary.
“I think it’s pretty telling that Sen. Schumer puts a bill on the floor to reaffirm what is already a constitutional right of same-sex marriage, which is not under any imminent threat, and continues to ignore national security and not take up the defense authorization bill,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, referring to the annual defense policy bill that has yet to be passed by the chamber this year.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., in charge of the vote operation for the GOP conference, has said he would not support the legislation but also made clear he would not be whipping against the measure.
Notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., steadfastly refused to say how he would vote on the proposal before. He ultimately voted “no” on Wednesday.
A similar bill passed the House in July with 47 Republicans voting in favor, but its Senate sponsors, in order to garner enough GOP support for final passage, had to amend the legislation to add specific religious liberty and conscience protections.
Schumer also pushed off a vote past the midterms, hoping to draw more conservative votes in the Senate once the political considerations of the campaign had passed.
The bill, once through the Senate and then approved by the House for a second time, would be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.
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