Senate Passes Marriage Equality Bill To Protect Same-Sex And Interracial Unions

UPDATE: The Senate passed a bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriage rights at the federal level, drawing bipartisan support for legislation likely to clear Congress and be signed by President Joe Biden.

The Supreme Court advanced marriage equality in several landmark decisions over the past 55 years, but the court’s decision in June to reverse Roe vs. Wade has raised fears that other precedents may also be in jeopardy.

More from Deadline

“The first people I will call when this bill passes is my daughter and her wife,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor of the Senate before the final vote. After members clapped when the final roll call was announced, Schumer said, “What a great day.”

The bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, cleared the Senate 61-36, with Democrats joined by 12 Republicans in support. The GOP members included Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana.

The legislation will next go to the House, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a vote will take place next week. Passage is expected, which would then send the legislation to President Joe Biden for signing.

The bill’s prospects improved considerably earlier this month when the 12 Republicans joined all Democrats to advance the bill, allowing its backers to reach the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.

Among the Republican supporters was Lummis, who said in a floor speech earlier on Tuesday that the legislation was a vote for tolerance, as it not only respected marriage rights but those of religious organizations who believe that nuptials should only be between a man and a woman.

Collins noted that the legislation would “guarantee that a valid marriage between two individuals in one state is recognized by individuals in another state.”

The bill does not mandate that states allow same-sex and interracial couples to marry, but it does require that the federal government recognize same-sex and interracial marriages. To gain more bipartisan support, additional provisions were added that makes clear that religious organizations and non-profits would not be required to provide services or goods for marriage ceremonies. Another provision protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) thanked Justice Clarence Thomas “for bringing us to this moment.”

The impetus for the bill was the Supreme Court’s Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health decision, which repealed Roe. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas raised the prospect of revisiting Supreme Court precedents in other cases, including Obergefell vs. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that recognized a right to same-sex marriage nationwide.

The legislation was championed by a group of senators that included Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly LGBT member of the Senate, and Portman. As they worked to gather support, they delayed a planned September vote until after the election, easing the pressure on some senators. In fact, Collins thanked other Republicans who supported the legislation. “I know that it has not been easy. But they have done the right thing,” she said.

The Senate also rejected proposed amendments to the legislation from some of its opponents, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who argued that it did not do enough to protect religious liberty. In a statement, Lee said that the Senate passage was a “discouraging development in our country’s storied history of protecting the free exercise of religion.” He said his amendment would prohibit the federal government from retaliating against schools, business and organizations because of their religious beliefs about same-sex marriage.

Collins, however, noted that the bill garnered support from an array of religious organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventists and the National Association of Evangelicals.

If the Supreme Court reverses Obergefell, it would mean that states could again restrict same-sex marriage rights. But the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act would mean that they would have to recognize marriages performed in other states. The bill also would enshrine rights and benefits at the federal level.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, some legal scholars also raised fears that the high court majority’s rationale also would threaten the 1967 decision in Loving vs. Virginia, which ended state prohibitions on interracial marriage.

PREVIOUSLY, November 15: A bill to protect same-sex marriage rights at the federal level advanced in a 62-37 vote on Wednesday, as twelve Republicans joined all Democrats to bring the legislation to the floor.

A final vote is expected this week.

In the chamber, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly LGBT member of the Senate, huddled with other supporters during the roll call, keeping tabs on the vote on a memo pad.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote that passing the legislation was “as personal as it gets for so many of us in this chamber, myself included.”

“My daughter and her wife—my daughter in law—are expecting a baby next spring, and I want to do everything possible to make sure their rights are protected under federal law,” Schumer said. “I want them, and everyone in a loving relationship, to live without the fear that their rights could one day be stripped way. So there are many of us who are deeply invested in seeing this bill succeed.”

Republicans who voted for the legislation included Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Todd Young of Indiana. The bill needed 60 votes to advance.

The legislation, the Respect for Marriage Act, would require that the federal government recognize a marriage if it is valid in the state in which it was performed. The couples would be entitled to “full faith and credit” of the federal government, but it would not require that a state issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

The legislation also includes provisions that religious organizations and non-profits would not be required to provide services or goods for marriage ceremonies. Another provision protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law. The bill also includes a clause that the federal government would not be required or authorized to recognize polygamous marriages.

Chief Senate backers of the bill, including Baldwin and Portman, said earlier this week that they were confident they had the votes to get the legislation to the floor. But it was unclear which Republicans would vote in favor. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to tell reporters on Tuesday which way he would vote, and he ultimately was one of the last lawmakers to come to the floor for the roll call. He voted no.

In a statement, Lummis said that “as a Christian and a conservative, ensuring that the religious liberties of people in Wyoming are protected and that no institution would be forced to perform a ceremony that is not in line with their values is absolutely essential.” She said that the legislation reflected a balance of religious beliefs and individual liberties.

PREVIOUSLY, Monday, 1:46 PM PT: A bipartisan group of senators expressed confidence that they have the votes to pass legislation to protect same-sex marriage amid concerns that some future Supreme Court decision would roll back nationwide rights.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had put off a vote on the legislation until after the midterms and into the lame-duck session. With reports that the legislation may come to the Senate floor as soon as this week, the lawmakers released a statement on Monday saying, “We look forward to this legislation coming to the floor and are confident that this amendment has helped earn the broad, bipartisan support needed to pass our commonsense legislation into law.”

The senators spearheading the legislation include Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Sixty votes would be needed to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

The legislation, the Respect for Marriage Act, would require that the federal government recognize a marriage if it is valid in the state in which it was performed. The couples would be entitled to “full faith and credit” of the federal government, but it would not require that a state issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

The legislation also includes provisions that religious organizations and non-profits would not be required to provide services or goods for marriage ceremonies. Another provision protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or federal law. The bill also includes a clause that the federal government would not be required or authorized to recognize polygamous marriages.

The House overwhelmingly passed same-sex marriage protections in July. If the bill passes the Senate, it still would have to go back to the House because of the amendment added in the upper chamber.

The impetus for the legislation was Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe v. Wade. Thomas suggested that the high court should review other past precedent, including the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges that struck down bans on same-sex marriage.

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.