The Senate is poised to pass landmark legislation this week to enshrine both same-sex and interracial marriage rights at the federal level amid what Democrats are calling concern that the conservative majority of the Supreme Court could remove protections for both.
The first major test vote took place on Wednesday to start a formal debate on the bill.
That procedural hurdle was cleared by a vote of 62 to 37, with 12 Republicans joining the 50-member Democratic caucus, putting the measure on track to be passed as early as Thursday if opponents agree to give up their opposition early, before lawmakers break into the week-long Thanksgiving break.
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 from Missouri, Richard Burr from North Carolina, Joni Ernst from Iowa, Todd Young from Indiana and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.
“Persons in same-sex and interracial marriages need and deserve the confidence and reassurance that their marriages are legal and will remain legal,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., a principal co-sponsor of the bill and the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to Congress, has said. “These lovers should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms as any other marriage.”
“I know that the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staff, including myself,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week. He noted that his own daughter and her wife, who are married, are expecting a baby in February.
Schumer has argued that the consensus view of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas overturned Roe. v. Wade jeopardized the rights of LGBTQ Americans that summer, when he said the court “should reconsider the case” granting the statewide right to gay marriage.
Other High Court judges had taken pains to distance Thomas’ view from the majority view, which reversed Roe.
The Respect for Marriage Act would “require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two people if the marriage was valid in the state in which it was entered into,” according to a summary of the bill’s sponsors, including the first openly bisexual wife of Congressional Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., along with Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Thom Tillis, RN.C.
The bill would not require any state to issue marriage certificates contrary to its laws, but would require states to recognize lawfully granted marriages performed in other states, including same-sex and interracial partnerships.
For Portman, whose son came out as gay a few years ago, it’s about giving people “security in their marriage.”
“It’s important to reassure people that they won’t lose their rights as they move from state to state. It’s a pretty simple bill,” he said previously, adding that the American people have evolved to support the issue, and Congress should do the same.
But ahead of Wednesday’s vote, some Republicans called the legislation unnecessary.
“I think it’s quite telling that Senator Schumer puts a bill on the floor to reaffirm the already constitutional right to same-sex marriage, which faces no immediate threat, and continues to ignore national security and not defend the permitting act,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, referring to the annual defense policy bill that is yet to be passed by the chamber this year.
Senator John Thune, RS.D., in charge of the voting operation for the GOP conference, has said he will not support the legislation but has also clarified that he will not oppose the measure.
In particular, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., steadfastly refused to say beforehand how he would vote on the proposal. On Wednesday, he finally voted “no”.
A similar bill passed the House of Representatives in July by a 47 Republican vote, but its Senate sponsors had to amend the law to gain enough GOP support for final passage to add specific religious freedom and protections of conscience.
Schumer also postponed a vote past midterm in hopes of gaining more conservative votes in the Senate once the campaign’s political deliberations were over.
The bill, approved once by the Senate and then a second time by the House of Representatives, would be submitted to President Joe Biden for signature.