News (USA)

Senate passes critical vote to advance marriage equality bill

Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI) Photo: Campaign photo

The Senate just voted for cloture for the Respect for Marriage Act in a 62-37 vote, advancing the bill to codify the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages and require states to recognize marriages performed in other states.

It now will be debated and possibly amended by the full Senate.

All Democrats voted to advance the bill, along with 12 Republican senators: Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), Joni Ernst (IA), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Dan Sullivan (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Thom Tillis (NC), and Todd Young (IN).

A second cloture vote is expected later this week following 30 hours of debate on the bill, just before senators leave D.C. for a week of Thanksgiving break. If it passes the full Senate, the Senate version will be sent back to the House for another vote and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

LGBTQ activists praised the Senate’s action.

“Today 62 U.S. Senators voted for cloture on the Respect for Marriage Act, H.R. 8404, a filibuster-proof majority of the U.S. Senate agreeing to move the RMA forward to the Senate floor,” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund. “The importance of this vote cannot be overstated – it is in some part proactive defensive legislation of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court’s clear threats against marriage for same-sex couples.”

“We support the RMA—a bipartisan compromise – because it would protect millions of same-sex and interracial couples by ensuring their marriages be respected by federal and state governments. It would remove the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) off the books and replace disrespect with respect.  The RMA and our families enjoy strong interfaith support, and it is worth noting that this bill would not change existing constitutional religious freedoms. ”

Lambda Legal Chief Legal Officer Jennifer C. Pizer stated, “It is enormously gratifying to be able to see in the very near future a final erasure of the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act, which has been an ugly stain on our federal statute books since 1996. Even if largely dormant since Obergefell, those marriage bans still live on the books in many states.”

“We applaud the bipartisan group that understood the urgency and worked hard to find the path to mitigate the harms in case the Court were to take the outrageous, discriminatory step of erasing the fundamental right to marry. And because anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains widespread and harmful, we will need the Equality Act to follow the Respect for Marriage Act quickly into the U.S. Code.”

The Respect for Marriage Act (or H.R. 8404) would require every state to recognize marriages performed in other states and would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The bill would not require states that ban marriage equality to perform those marriages themselves, should they ban them if Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, is overturned.

Proponents of the law argue that it’s necessary in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which shared some of the same legal reasoning as the Court’s decision in Obergefell. Justice Clarence Thomas also urged the Supreme Court to reconsider Obergefell now that Roe has been overturned, a sign that the Court may be coming for same-sex marriage rights as well.

“The Respect for Marriage Act is a needed step to provide millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages the certainty that they will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages,” reads a joint statement released by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

The bill passed the House last July with all Democrats voting for it, 47 Republicans voting for it, and 157 Republican representatives voting against it. Baldwin initially said she thought 10 Republican senators would vote for it. However, she and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) decided to delay the bill’s introduction until after the midterm elections.

Opponents of the bill have said that it will lead to “pedophilic marriage” and “polygamous marriages” because it requires states to recognize marriages performed in other states. While this raises the question about why states allow child marriage in the first place, the Senate is expected to vote on an amendment that would clarify that the bill does not require recognition of polygamous marriages.

The amendment – which will be put forward by Baldwin, Collins, Portman, Sinema, and Tillis – says that religious nonprofits would not be required to provide “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage” because of the law itself, although state anti-discrimination laws may still apply. It also says that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Constitution’s religious freedom protections still apply.

LGBTQ advocates have been pushing for the bill to pass before Republicans take control of the House next year. GLAAD ran an ad in support of the Respect for Marriage Act before the midterm elections.

Anti-LGBTQ advocates have also run ads opposing the bill. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) ran an ad pressuring Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to vote against it. He was up for reelection this year.

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