The Senate voted 62-37 Wednesday to advance a bill codifying same-sex marriage past a key procedural hurdle, bringing it one step closer to a final vote.
In an afternoon vote, Senators voted to invoke cloture on the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill introduced in September by Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California. The bill would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, a law signed by former President Bill Clinton that defined marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” which effectively banned same-sex marriage at the federal level.
Cloture, which precludes a filibuster, means that the bill will be debated for 18 hours of speaking time in the Senate before a final vote. All senators who voted for cloture have vowed to support the bill at third reading, its final consideration. (RELATED: Mormon Church Comes Out In Support Of National Gay Marriage Bill After Backing Campaigns Against Same-Sex Marriage)
That provision of the act was ruled unconstitutional in 2015, in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states and U.S. territories. As marriage was an area of state jurisdiction, several states had legalized same-sex marriage long before 2015, but Obergefell paved the way for its permissibility in conservative states that had refused to legalize it.
My statement on the Respect for Marriage Act: pic.twitter.com/jaVL1k0wE5
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) November 16, 2022
As a practical matter, the Respect for Marriage Act will ensure federal recognition of same-sex marriages in the few federal areas where spouses are granted certain privileges, such as in consular assistance to U.S. nationals abroad. “The Respect for Marriage Act would simply require the federal government to recognize a marriage if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed,” wrote Collins in a press release.
The bipartisan measure gained the support of all Democratic senators and 12 GOP senators, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is retiring at the end of this Congress. Blunt came out in support of the bill on Tuesday after it was amended to include a provision protecting religious freedom for faith-based organizations that opposed same-sex marriage.
The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill in July, with the support of all House Democrats and 47 House Republicans, including House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. The Senate amendment to the bill will now have to receive consent from the House, before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature, with the White House confirming that he will sign the bill.
Action on the bill despite the Obergefell decision was accelerated by the fears of some progressives following the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overruled Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of a constitutional right to an abortion. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the legal reasoning used by the Court opposed an interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s due process clause that guaranteed “substantive” due process, which was used by the majority in Obergefell.
Though Thomas wrote that Obergefell was not at issue, several progressive groups had suggested that the Court’s conservative majority could overturn the decision. The Respect for Marriage Act, as substantive law, would prevent the Court from doing so.
Several faith-based groups had come out in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, including the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, a reversal of its earlier position. “We believe this approach is the way forward,” it wrote in a press release, adding that it was committed to “preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
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