The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill to protect same-sex marriage, marking a significant milestone for LGBTQ rights just 26 years after Congress voted to restrict marriage as between a man and a woman.
Retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt was the only senator from Kansas or Missouri among the 61 Democrats and Republicans who voted for the bill. Sens. Roger Marshall, Jerry Moran and Josh Hawley have said they do not believe the legislation is necessary, given a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal, and that they believe the legislation will inhibit religious freedom.
Some religious conservatives were critical of the Republicans who crossed the aisle to support the bill, even though polls that show the majority of Americans support same-sex marriage and it had the support of religious groups like the Mormon Church.
Blunt faced criticism from Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who penned an open letter on Tuesday calling on him to block the bill. He said Missourians had already spoken on the issue and referenced a 2004 vote that added a same-sex marriage ban to the Missouri constitution.
“Missourians have overwhelmingly approved marriage as a bond between one man and one woman,” Ashcroft wrote. “Over seventy percent of Missourians amended the Missouri Constitution stipulating that ‘to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.’”
In 2004, when Missourians added the marriage amendment to the constitution, only 42% of Americans said they supported same-sex marriage, according to Gallup. Support grew to 71% of Americans in 2022.
Blunt said Ashcroft’s letter did not change his mind on the bill.
“I always appreciate lots of advice,” Blunt said.
Blunt said he supports the bill because it will ensure that legal same-sex marriages are recognized by all states and because the bill includes religious freedom protections.
“It’s better for the Congress to speak on this issue, than to let the courts and various federal entities decide what the previous cases on marriage might do to minimize religious freedom,” Blunt said.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, which had been in place since the 1970s, members of the LGBTQ community grew concerned that it would also revisit the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that made same-sex marriage legal across the country.
“Despite all the progress we’ve made, the constitutional right to same-sex marriage is not even a decade old, and exists only by the virtue of a very narrow 5-4 Supreme Court decision,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “And we all know the court has changed since that decision. As we have already seen this year, what the court has decided in the past can be easily taken away in the future.”
The bill repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law passed in 1996 and struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 that declared marriage is between one man and one woman. It also protects interracial marriages by codifying the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case.
If the U.S. Supreme Court were to eliminate the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the practice would be banned in both Missouri and Kansas, which passed constitutional amendments to define marriage as between one man and one woman in 2004. The bill would ensure federal protections to same-sex marriages performed in other states, ensuring that all states have to recognize the marriages.
“We are not pushing this legislation to make history,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. “We are doing this to make a difference for millions upon millions of Americans. It’s a historic day, but it’s going to make a difference.”
The existing bill says religious organizations would not have to provide services, facilities or goods for same-sex marriages, including religious nonprofits. It also has language saying it does not require the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.
Some conservatives, including Hawley, Marshall and Moran, felt those protections did not go far enough.
Because the version of the bill that passed the Senate is different from the version that passed the House, it will have to go back to the House for approval before it goes to the president, who supports the bill.
The last version of the bill easily passed the House, though Rep. Ann Wagner, from the St. Louis suburbs, was the only Republican member from Kansas or Missouri who supported the bill.