The United States Senate has voted 61 to 36 to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, a law that would enshrine the protection of same-sex and interracial marriages in federal law.
A dozen Republicans joined the 49 Democrats in support of the popular law, which prohibits states from denying “foreign marriages because of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin”.
The bill also “repeals and replaces” any federal language that defines marriage as same-sex.
The second major victory comes in the final weeks of the Democratic-controlled Congress. The bill now returns to the House of Representatives, which is set to transition to Republican leadership when the 118th Congress is sworn in on January 3.
In a speech a minute before the event, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, praised the bipartisan support, saying he wanted to invite his daughter and wife to celebrate.
“For millions of Americans, today is a great day. An important day. A day that has been long overdue,” Schumer said.
“The long but steady march toward greater equality is moving forward. By passing this bill, the Senate is sending a message that every American needs to hear: No matter who you are or who you love, you too deserve to be treated with dignity and equality under the law.”
But hours before the vote on Tuesday, Senate Republicans like James Lankford of Oklahoma raised fears that the Respect for Marriage Act would restrict religious freedom in the US and proposed changes to the bill.
“Is it today to respect the rights of all people, or is it to prevent some and respect others?” Lankford said.
A Gallup poll showed that support for same-sex marriage in the US reached 70 percent in 2021. It was also the first time that Gallup recorded a majority of Republicans in favor of same-sex marriage, at 55 percent.
“Federal law as it stands today does not reflect the will or beliefs of the American people on this issue,” Ohio Republican Rob Portman said in a speech in support of the Respect for Marriage Act on November 16. suitable for both sexes.”
Since 2015, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell and Hodges has confirmed that same-sex couples have the right to marry. But laws like the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which defined marriage as between “one man and one woman” and denied legal recognition to same-sex couples — remained on the books, though unenforceable.
While the Dignity of Marriage Act may not be compatible with the Obergefell decision, it will repeal laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act. It will also mandate that states recognize all marriages that were legally performed and protect existing marriages.
The current push to enact the Dignity of Marriage Act came after the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned half a century of abortion protections.
During Monday’s Senate hearing, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden pointed to Dobbs’ decision as motivation to vote in favor of the bill.
“Some people in this organization have asked why we should pass this law when marriage is the law of the land,” said Wyden. “The answer is straightforward. The Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe and Wade, showed that the Senate could not ignore existing laws.
The majority opinion in the Dobbs decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, denied that the ruling would affect court cases outside of abortion.
But one opinion, delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the court should “review all of the Court’s decisions”, citing the 2015 Obergefell decision among them.
On July 19, a few weeks after Dobbs’ decision, House Democrats passed the Respect for Marriage bill with the support of 47 Republicans – a surprising vote that showed the apparent division of Republicans on same-sex marriage.
Top House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise, opposed the bill, while a third Republican, Elise Stefanik of New York, voted against it.
After passing the House, the Respect for Marriage Act faced many challenges in the divided Senate, where 60 votes were needed to overcome a filibuster.
Senate Democrats delayed voting on the bill until the US held mid-term elections on time in an effort to quell pressure from Republicans and gain bipartisan support. Republicans pushed for several changes to the bill to protect religious freedom.
The law passed Tuesday included language that would ban polygamy and ensure that the law cannot be used to target or deny government benefits, including tax exemptions, based on religious belief. In a tentative vote Monday, 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats in voting in favor of the revised bill.
Religious groups also gave support to the bill, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which praised the bill for its “protection of religious freedom while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters”.
“It’s common sense that the Senate is doing this debate at the very beginning,” Schumer said Monday. Ten years ago, it would have boggled our minds to consider both sides of gay rights.
But Tuesday’s vote was preceded by some amendments to the bill, from senators including Lankford and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Portman, a fellow Republican, urged his party on Tuesday to help honor Marriage. He added that “misinformation” about the law would put “organizations and people who want to live up to their beliefs” at risk of legal action.
The law, Mr. Portman said, “represents a national policy that respects different beliefs about gender roles and marriage, and protects the rights of same-sex couples”.
Another Republican, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, told the Senate that, although she believed in “the word of God on the meaning of marriage”, she would support the law on the honor of marriage.
“These are difficult times for our country,” Lummis said, referring to the increase in hate speech. “We are doing better by doing this, not by embracing or validating each other’s ideas, but by simply tolerating them.”