WASHINGTON — The US Senate passed legislation Tuesday to protect same-sex marriages and interracial marriages.
The bill, which would ensure those marriages are enshrined in federal law.
It was approved 61-36 on Tuesday.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was among 36 Republicans to vote against the bill.
His counterpart, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, was among 49 Democrats to vote for it.
“Today, an overwhelming majority of Senators stepped up to protect the freedoms and rights of millions of Americans in same-sex and interracial marriages,” Baldwin said in a statement. “I’m proud to have worked across the aisle to get the job done for millions of loving couples in Wisconsin and across the country.
“Millions of same-sex and interracial couples made this moment possible by living openly as their authentic selves, changing the hearts and minds of people around them. This legislation will protect the hard-fought progress we’ve made on marriage equality and I look forward to the Respect for Marriage Act becoming the law of the land.”
The vote was personal for Baldwin and other senators. Baldwin is the first openly gay senator. She was the lead sponsor of the bill, and tearfully hugged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others as the final vote was called.
Baldwin, who has been working on gay rights issues for almost four decades, tweeted thanks to the same-sex and interracial couples who she said made the moment possible.
Baldwin said earlier this month that the newfound openness from some Republicans on the subject reminds her “of the arc of the LBGTQ movement to begin with, in the early days when people weren’t out and people knew gay people by myths and stereotypes.”
“And slowly laws have followed,” she said. “It is history.”
Three senators — a Democrat and two Republicans — did not vote on the bill.
Both Minnesota’s Democratic senators — Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith — voted for the bill. Iowa’s Republican senators were split, with Chuck Grassley voting against and Joni Ernst voting for it.
Democrats are pushing legislation quickly through Congress, while they still hold the majority in both chambers. The US House will likely vote on the bill next week.
From the Associated Press:
The bill has gained steady momentum since the Supreme Court’s June decision that overturned the federal right to an abortion, a ruling that included a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested same-sex marriage could also come under threat. Bipartisan Senate negotiations got a kick-start this summer when 47 Republicans unexpectedly voted for a House bill and gave supporters new optimism.
The legislation would not force any 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 protect current same-sex unions, if the court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision were to be overturned. It’s a stunning bipartisan endorsement, and evidence of societal change, after years of bitter divisiveness on the issue.
A new law protecting same-sex marriages would also be a major victory for Democrats as they relinquish their two years of consolidated power in Washington, and a massive win for advocates who have been pushing for decades for federal legislation. It comes as the LGBTQ community has faced violent attacks, such as the shooting last weekend at a gay nightclub in Colorado that killed five people and injured at least 17.
“Our community really needs a win, we have been through a lot,” said Kelley Robinson, the incoming president of Human Rights Campaign, which advocates on LGBTQ issues. “As a queer person who is married, I feel a sense of relief right now. I know my family is safe.”
Robinson was in the Senate chamber for the vote with her wife, Becky, and toddler son. “It was more emotional than I expected,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that he was wearing the tie he wore at his daughter’s wedding, “one of the happiest moments of my life.” He also recalled the “harrowing conversation” he had with his daughter and her wife in September 2020 when they heard that liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. “Could our right to marry be undone?” they asked at the time.
With conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Ginsburg, the court has now overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion, stoking fears about Obergefell and other rights protected by the court. But sentiment has shifted on same-sex marriage, with more than two-thirds of the public now in support.
Still, Schumer said it was notable that the Senate was even having the debate after years of Republican opposition. “A decade ago, it would have strained all of our imaginations to envision both sides talking about protecting the rights of same-sex married couples,” he said.
Passage came after the Senate rejected three Republican amendments to protect the rights of religious institutions and others to still oppose such marriages. Supporters of the legislation argued those amendments were unnecessary because the bill had already been amended to clarify that it does not affect rights of private individuals or businesses that are currently enshrined in law. The bill would also make clear that a marriage is between two people, an effort to ward off some far-right criticism that the legislation could endorse polygamy.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who has been lobbying his fellow GOP senators to support the legislation for months, pointed to the number of religious groups supporting the bill, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of those groups were part of negotiations on the bipartisan amendment.
“They see this as a step forward for religious freedom,” Tillis says.
The nearly 17-million member, Utah-based faith said in a statement this month that church doctrine would continue to consider same-sex relationships to be against God’s commandments.
Most Republicans still oppose the legislation, saying it is unnecessary and citing concerns about religious liberty. And some conservative groups stepped up opposition in recent weeks, lobbying Republican supporters to switch their votes.
“Marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, conjugal union between one man and one woman, and any departure from that design hurts the indispensable goal of having every child raised in a stable home by the mom and dad who conceived him,” the Heritage Foundation’s Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy, wrote in a recent blog post arguing against the bill.
In an effort to win the 10 Republican votes necessary to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats delayed consideration until after the midterm elections, hoping that would relieve political pressure on GOP senators who might be wavering.
Eventual support from 12 Republicans gave Democrats the votes they needed.