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The 62-37 procedural vote was a major victory for Democrats, who raised concerns that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court could review a ruling that expanded those rights. Twelve Republicans joined all the Democrats to advance the legislation after the bill’s sponsors agreed on language for an amendment to attract more GOP votes.
“You know, the long journey to equality in America is bumpy. But it’s good to bet on the side of equality in the long run,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote.
The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Tammy Baldwin and Republican Susan Collins, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between a man and a woman under federal law. That law was struck down by the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which requires all states to grant and recognize same-sex marriages.
Democrats said the bill was needed to protect the rights of same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade establishing a constitutional right to annul abortions. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion in the Dobbs case that the court should review other “due process precedents” including the Obergefell v. Hodges.
“He was essentially giving an open invitation to litigants across the country to take their cases to court, which no doubt scared millions of Americans,” Baldwin said in a floor speech Wednesday. “The Supreme Court should not be able to undermine the resilience of struggling families.”
Some Republicans have argued that the bill is unnecessary and have raised doubts about whether the Supreme Court would overturn the Obergefell ruling.
Collins, Republican of Maine, argued Wednesday that regardless of the possibility of the case being overturned, “there is still value in making sure that our federal laws reflect that same-sex and interracial couples have the right to have their weddings no matter where they are. live in this country.”
The bill would federally recognize same-sex marriages and ensure benefits for all married couples.
If the Supreme Court overturned Obergefell v. Hodges, states would be allowed to refuse to issue same-sex marriages. But the bill would require these states to recognize marriage licenses issued in other states where these unions are legal regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.
The amendment to the bill ensures that the measure would not reduce religious and conscience protections and would not infringe on benefits, rights or status unrelated to marriage.
Civil rights groups, businesses, some religious organizations and church clergy have backed the passage of the bill.
The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act in July on a bipartisan vote of 267-157. But if the Senate passes a revised bill, as expected, the House would have to vote again on the measure.
Schumer said he brought the legislation forward after last week’s midterm elections to give him the best chance to attract GOP votes.
“I think if we had voted earlier, we would have lost it,” Schumer said. “We would never be able to come back.”
Besides Collins, the Republicans who voted to move forward with the legislation were Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito of. West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and Rob Portman of Ohio.
–With assistance from Laura Litvan and Laura Davison.
(Updates with new Schumer quotes in the third and 15th paragraphs and a list of GOP supporters in the last paragraph.)
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