Same-sex marriage legislation clears key hurdle before Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriage cleared a major hurdle in the Senate 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 advance the legislation, meaning a final vote could take place this week or later this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill, which ensures unions are legally recognized under the law, is a chance for the Senate to “live up to its highest ideals” and protect marriage equality for all people.

“It will make our country a better and fairer place to live,” Schumer said, noting that his own daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.

Senate Democrats are moving quickly to pass the bill, while the party still controls the House. Republicans won the majority in the House Wednesday and are unlikely to take up the issue next year.

In a statement after the vote, President Joe Biden said he was signing the bill once it passed.

“Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said.

The bill gained steady momentum after the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that overruled Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion. An opinion at the time by Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that an earlier high court decision was upholding same-sex marriage may also be under threat.

The legislation would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they took place. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.”

Congress has acted to protect same-sex marriage as support from the general public — and Republicans in particular — has surged in recent years since the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized gay marriage nationwide. Recent polls show that more than two-thirds of the public support same-sex unions.

Still, many Republicans in Congress are reluctant to support the legislation, with many saying it’s unnecessary while marriages are still protected by the courts. democrats delayed viewing until the midterm elections, hoping that will ease political pressure on some GOP senators who may be wavering.

A proposed amendment to the bill, negotiated by supporters to include more Republicans, would have made it clear that it does not affect the rights of individuals or businesses already enshrined in the law. Another tweak would clarify that marriage is between two people, an attempt to fend off some far-right criticism that the legislation could condone polygamy.

Three Republicans initially said they would support the legislation and lobbied their GOP colleagues to support it: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Tom Tillis of North Carolina and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. They argued that there was still value in asserting the rights of such marriages even if the courts did not invalidate them.

“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 matter.”

In the end, nine of their GOP colleagues joined them in voting for it, bringing the total to twelve and providing enough votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate. The other Republicans who voted for the legislation 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 Loomis of Wyoming and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

The GOP’s growing support for the issue is a stark contrast from even a decade ago, when many Republicans vocally opposed same-sex marriage. The legislation passed through the House in a vote in July with the support of 47 Republicans — a larger-than-expected number that pushed the measure through the Senate.

In Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the latest conservative group to back the legislation. In a statement, the Utah-based faith said church doctrine would continue to consider same-sex relationships contrary to God’s commandments, but would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they do not infringe on the right of religious groups to believe as they choose.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has worked on gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said the newfound openness of many Republicans on the issue reminds her “of the arc of the LBGTQ movement that will begin with, in the early days when people weren’t out and people knew gay people by myths and stereotypes.’

Baldwin said that as more people and families have become visible, hearts and minds have changed.

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

Schumer said the issue is personal to him as well.

“Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is so personal for many senators and their staff, including me,” Schumer said. “My daughter and her wife are actually expecting a little baby in February. So it’s important for so many of us to achieve that.”


Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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