Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Two women getting married
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The Senate has voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) in a 61-36 vote. All Democrats who were present voted for the bill as well as 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).

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for another vote because it was amended in the Senate. The House is expected to pass the bill and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it.

“Today love won,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a statement. “This is a historic day, marking a much-needed victory for our community. The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats – including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago. Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over ten years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks.”

“The fact that this bill passed with strong bipartisan support — earning the votes of  12 Republicans — again demonstrates that marriage equality enjoys growing bipartisan backing, is supported by a wide swath of the American people and is not going anywhere. We are closing this discriminatory chapter of our history — marriage equality is here to stay. And this is just the beginning — we have more work to do to fight with and for our transgender community…our BIPOC community, and our youngest community members with the same passion and energy that we brought to the fight for marriage equality.”

The RFMA would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and require the federal government and state governments to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed in other states.

Proponents of the bill say that it’s necessary now that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which shared part of its legal framework with Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states in 2015. Justice Clarence Thomas said that the Court should “reconsider” Obergefell in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned Roe this past summer.

That is, supporters of the bill believe the Court could be coming after marriage rights next.

Opponents of the bill have said that it would end religious liberty by requiring churches to perform same-sex marriages, something that’s not in the RFMA.

The Senate also voted on three amendments offered by Republicans today, including an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) that would greatly expand religious exemptions at the federal level. The Senate rejected all three.

The only Democrat who didn’t vote for the bill was Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), who is in Georgia campaigning for reelection in the state’s runoff election scheduled for December 6.

“Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said in a statement when the RFMA passed its first hurdle in the Senate earlier this month. “I want to thank the Members of Congress whose leadership has sent a strong message that Republicans and Democrats can work together to secure the fundamental right of Americans to marry the person they love.”

In a statement celebrating the Senate’s vote, Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute praised Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who spearheaded the bill, as “a true political juggernaut” who “has solidified her place as one of the greatest LGBTQ leaders of all time.”

“The personal conversations she had behind closed doors with reluctant colleagues certainly changed hearts and minds and led to today’s result,” Parker continued.

“This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted that he celebrated the news by calling his daughter and her wife.

“I just called my daughter and her wife—who are expecting a baby next spring—to let them know that this Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act! What a great day!” he wrote.

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