Senate votes to advance same-sex marriage bill

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to advance a bipartisan bill that would enshrine same-sex marriage protections into federal law.

The Senate voted 62-37 on a motion to proceed with the Respect for Marriage Act, with 12 Republicans joining all members of the Democratic caucus in supporting the measure. A final Senate vote on the legislation is expected later this month.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, would codify marriages between same-sex and interracial couples, shielding them from future Supreme Court decisions.

It was introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., after the nation’s high court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, with Justice Clarence Thomas issuing a concurring opinion indicating that an earlier high court decision protecting same-sex marriage could come under threat.

A gay rights flag is seen flying, with the Supreme Court in the background.
A gay rights flag flies outside the Supreme Court in 2017. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

In July, the bill passed the House in a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the measure.

Democrats agreed to wait until after the 2022 midterm elections to bring the legislation to the Senate floor, believing it would be easier to garner bipartisan support from Republicans across the aisle.

It needed support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster.

“I hope that at minimum 10 Republicans will throw their support behind this sound, commonsense bill,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. “Millions of people will be better off if we’re able to work together on this important and highly personal issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stands at a podium.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who became the first openly gay politician elected to the Senate after winning her race in 2012, is leading the effort by Democrats to garner GOP support for the bill’s passage.

“This legislation unites Americans with the Respect for Marriage Act,” Baldwin said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We can ease the fear that millions of same-sex and interracial couples have that their freedoms and their rights could be stripped away.

“By passing this bill, we are guaranteeing same-sex and interracial couples, regardless of where they live, that their marriage is legal and that they will continue to enjoy the rights and responsibilities that all other marriages are afforded,” she added. “And this will give millions of loving couples the certainty, the dignity and the respect that they need and that they deserve.”

Earlier this week Baldwin released an amended version of the bill that includes protections for religious liberty.

The move helped convince Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to back the bill.

“If it includes important protections for religions and religious institutions, I will support it,” Romney told Politico.

A gay rights activist holds up a rainbow flag.
A gay rights activist near the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City in 2015. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters) (Jim Urquhart / reuters)

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Tuesday it would back the proposed legislation despite its opposition to same-sex unions.

“The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged,” the church said in a statement. “We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church added. “As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”

If the amended bill with religious liberty protections passes the Senate later this month, it would need another vote of approval from the House before heading to President Biden’s desk.

In a statement following the procedural vote, Biden urged Congress to pass the bipartisan bill and send it to him to sign.

“Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said. “Today’s bipartisan vote brings the United States one step closer to protecting that right in law. The Respect for Marriage Act will ensure that LGBTQI+ couples and interracial couples are respected and protected equally under federal law, and provide more certainty to these families since the Supreme Court’s decision.

“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,” the president added. “I urge Congress to quickly send this bill to my desk where I will promptly sign it into law.”