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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schummer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schummer speaks to reporters after meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss pending legislation, including the Respect for Marriage Act. Photo: Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A bill aiming to protect same-sex, interracial marriages passes the Senate

The Respect for Marriage Act survived numerous rounds of deliberations in the Senate before heading back to the House floor for a final vote.

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Gay and interracial unions have a moment of brief respite as the Senate voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, marking a small albeit productive step forward for federally recognized marriage equality. 

The bill, passed in a 61-36 vote, requires states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriage licenses, regardless of whether a jurisdiction recognizes those unions. 

“With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, following the vote. 

“For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled,” he continued

The Respect for Marriage Act does not impose a federal requirement for states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex or interracial couples, but it adds a layer of protection for said unions, reaffirming its validity in the state where it was performed. 

Congress had to work in a crunch before the midterm elections to rally enough Republican support, 10 at minimum, for the bill to survive a vote. There were other delays, like protections for religious liberties, to be deliberated before a consensus was reached. 

Many Republican Senators said they could not support the bill without amendments to reinforce religious exceptions. 

Language in the amendment clarified that the federal government would not recognize polyamorous unions and confirmed that nonprofit religious organizations did not have to provide  “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

There was also some delay when Congress entered a brief period of break over the Thanksgiving holiday, further delaying the deliberations in the Senate, which continued the following week. 

Susan Collins, the Republican Senator for Maine who was instrumental in getting her GOP colleagues on board, said she wanted to thank “all of the Republicans who have supported this. I know that it’s not been easy, but they’ve done the right thing” before the final vote. 

It was initially floated around Capitol Hill in June after the United States Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, a landmark 50-year ruling that enshrined abortion protections in the courts.

A draft opinion published by Politico evoked concerns because its language insinuated the court should also revise the legal reasoning applied in Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling which upholds same-sex marriage protections, authored by Justice Samuel Alito.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas — also a conservative appointee of former President George H. W. Bush — wrote that justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell” — referring to three cases relating to Americans’ fundamental privacy, due process and equal protection rights.

The opinion maintained the ruling was limited to Roe, but it didn’t stop Congress from acting on the Supreme Court’s behavior. 

The 12 Republican senators who voted to pass the bill were Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyo.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Todd C. Young (Ind.).

The bill now heads to the House for a final vote before reaching the president’s desk. 

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