Senate votes on landmark law protecting same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate will vote Tuesday on legislation protecting same-sex and interracial marriages, leaving Congress…

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate will vote on legislation protecting same-sex and interracial marriages Tuesday, bringing Congress one step closer to passing the landmark bill and ensuring such unions are enshrined in federal law.

Senate Democrats are moving fast, while the party still holds a majority in both houses of Congress, to pass legislation requiring such unions to be legally recognized nationwide. The House of Representatives would still have to vote on the bill and send it to President Joe Biden.

The bill has steadily gained momentum since the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning federal abortion law and Judge Clarence Thomas’ comments at the time that same-sex marriages could also be at risk. Bipartisan Senate hearings began this summer after 47 Republicans unexpectedly voted in favor of a House bill, bringing renewed optimism to supporters.

The legislation would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges, who legalized gay marriage nationwide, do not codify or force a state to allow same-sex couples to marry. But it would require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed and to protect current same-sex partnerships. It would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

“The rights of all married couples will never be truly secure without the proper protection of federal law, and that is why the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said before a Senate Test vote Monday.

Passing the bill would be a major victory for Democrats ushering in their two years of consolidated power in Washington, and a massive win for advocates who have been pushing for federal legislation legalizing same-sex marriages for decades.

Schumer said it’s remarkable that the Senate is even having the debate. “A decade ago it would have stretched all our imaginations to imagine both sides talking about protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” he said.

A test vote Monday night brought the legislation closer to passage, with 12 Republicans who previously backed the bill voting again to move it forward. Democrats set up a vote Tuesday afternoon after Republicans negotiated votes on three GOP amendments that would protect the rights of religious institutions and others to continue to oppose such marriages.

Supporters of the law say the changes are unnecessary, as they are already amending the bill to clarify that it will not affect current statutory rights of individuals or businesses. This change would also clarify that marriage is between two people, an attempt to deflect some far-right criticism that the legislation may support polygamy.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who has campaigned for his fellow GOP senators for months to support the legislation, points to the number of religious groups supporting the bill, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of these groups were part of the bipartisan change negotiations.

“They see this as a step forward for freedom of religion,” says Tillis.

The nearly 17 million-member Utah-based faith group said in a statement earlier this month that the church’s doctrine will continue to view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments. Still, it said it would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they don’t violate the right of religious groups to believe what they want.

Support for some religious groups reflects changing public opinion on the issue – recent polls have found that more than two-thirds of the public supports same-sex partnerships. But Congress acted more slowly.

Most Republicans still oppose the law, believing it unnecessary, citing concerns about religious freedom. And some conservative groups have stepped up opposition in recent weeks.

“As I and others have argued for years, marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, conjugal union between a man and a woman, and any deviation from that concept undermines the indispensable goal of having every child raised in a stable home by a mother and father who fathered him,” wrote Roger Severino, vice president of domestic affairs at the Heritage Foundation, in a recent blog post opposing the bill.

In an effort to win the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a 50-50 Senate filibuster, Democrats delayed the scrutiny until after the midterm elections in hopes it would ease political pressure on some GOP would reduce senators who might waver.

The delay seemed to be working, and eventual support from 12 Republicans gave Democrats the votes they needed.

Along with Tillis, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman provided early support for the bill and lobbied their GOP peers to support it. Also voting in two mock votes were Republican 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 and 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.

Tammy Baldwin, a senator from Wisconsin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has worked on gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said earlier this month that the newfound openness of many Republicans on the issue puts them “at the slur.” First of all, the LBGTQ movement, in the early days, when people weren’t out there and people knew gay people by myths and stereotypes.”

Baldwin, the Senate lead negotiator for the legislation, said hearts and minds have changed as more individuals and families have become visible.

“And slowly laws followed,” she said. “It’s history.”

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