Same-sex marriage legislation clears key US Senate hurdle
WASHINGTON– Legislation protecting same-sex and interracial marriages cleared a major Senate hurdle on Wednesday, putting Congress on track to take the historic step of ensuring such unions are enshrined in federal law.
Twelve Republicans voted with all Democrats to move the legislation forward, meaning a final vote could come as soon as this week or later this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill, which ensures unions are legally recognized, is a chance for the Senate to “live up to its highest ideal” of protecting marriage equality for all people.
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“It’s going to make our country a better and fairer place to live in,” Schumer said, noting that his own daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.
Senate Democrats are quick to pass the bill while the party still controls the House. Republicans are on the verge of winning the House majority and are unlikely to take up the issue next year.
The bill has since the Supreme Court’s June decision that ruled Roe v. Wade and the federal abortion laws were repealed, steadily gained momentum. A statement by Justice Clarence Thomas at the time suggested that a previous Supreme Court decision protecting same-sex marriage could also be at risk.
The legislation would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “gender, race, ethnicity or national origin.”
Congress has scrambled to protect same-sex marriage as public support — and particularly Republican support — has surged in recent years since the Obergefell v. Hodges of the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015. Recent polls have found that more than two-thirds of the public support same-sex partnerships.
Still, many Republicans in Congress were reluctant to support the law, and many said it was unnecessary while marriages are still protected by the courts. Democrats delayed the scrutiny until after the midterm elections in hopes it would ease political pressure on some GOP senators who may be wavering.
A proposed amendment to the bill, negotiated by proponents to bring more Republicans on board, would clarify that the rights already enshrined in the law by individuals or corporations would not be affected. Another change would clarify that marriage is between two people, an attempt to deflect some far-right criticism that the legislation may support polygamy.
Three Republicans said early they would support the legislation and have lobbied their GOP peers to support it: Maine Sen. Susan Collins, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. They argued that it still makes sense to enshrine the rights for such marriages even if the courts do not invalidate them.
“The current federal law does not reflect the will or beliefs of the American people,” Portman said before the vote. “It’s time for the Senate to settle the issue.”
In the end, nine of their GOP peers joined them to vote in favor, bringing the total to twelve and providing enough votes to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate. The other Republicans who voted in favor of the law were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan from Alaska.
The GOP’s growing support for the issue is in sharp contrast to just a decade ago, when many Republicans were vocal against same-sex marriage. The bill passed the House of Representatives in a July vote with the support of 47 Republicans — a larger-than-expected number that gave the Senate move a boost.
On Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the latest conservative-leaning group to support the bill. In a statement, the Utah-based faith said church doctrine would continue to view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments, but would support the rights of same-sex couples so long as they do not believe in violating the right of religious groups as they choose.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has been addressing gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said the newfound openness of many Republicans on the issue reminded her “of the dawn of LBGTQ -Movement”. with, in the early days, when people weren’t out there and people knew gay people through myths and stereotypes.”
Baldwin said hearts and minds have changed as more individuals and families have become visible.
“And slowly laws followed,” she said. “It’s history.”
Schumer said the issue was personal to him, too.
“The passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staff, including myself,” Schumer said. “My daughter and her wife are actually expecting a little baby in February. So it’s very important for so many of us to get this done.”
Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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