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Senate Passes Respect for Marriage Act to Protect Same-Sex Marriage Rights

President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill into law if it passes the House vote next week.

From left, Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks to reporters as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confers with Sen. Jon Tester after meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on November 29, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Senate has passed the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that aims to enshrine federal protections for same-sex marriages in the United States.

The bill passed in the upper house of Congress on Tuesday evening by a vote of 61-38. Just 12 Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, while the remaining members of the party voted against it.

A similar bill passed earlier this year in the House of Representatives, but because an amendment was added to the Senate version of the bill (enshrining protections for those who claim to have religious objections to same-sex marriages), it will have to be passed again within that chamber. The House vote will likely take place sometime next week, and the revised bill is expected to pass.

After that, the bill will move to the desk of President Joe Biden, who has said he will sign the legislation into law.

Although the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, many warned that the Court’s sharp right turn in recent years warranted federal legislation to further protect marriage equality — especially following the Court ruling earlier this year that overturned abortion rights recognized in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which included a concurring decision from Justice Clarence Thomas indicating that he believed other decisions based on the right to privacy, including Obergefell, should be reexamined.

A summary of the bill from its cosponsors states that the act would “require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed.” If Obergefell is upended, 35 states would automatically revert to banning same-sex marriages due to lasting statutes on their books that existed prior to the landmark ruling. The bill would not require those states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if Obergefell is overturned, but would require them to recognize such marriages if they were performed elsewhere.

The bill officially repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, a homophobic law from the mid-1990s that stated that the federal government would not recognize same-sex marriages.

The language of the bill also includes protections for interracial marriages, which were enshrined by the judicial branch in the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia ruling in 1967.

Supporters of the bill — including lead sponsor Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), the first openly lesbian member of the Senate — lauded its passage as a significant step forward.

“Today, an overwhelming majority of Senators stepped up to protect the freedoms and rights of millions of Americans in same-sex and interracial marriages,” said Baldwin. “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.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a cosponsor of the bill, also celebrated its passage. “Tonight, the Senate took a historic step to help prevent discrimination, promote equality and protect the rights of all Americans by passing the Respect for Marriage Act that @SenatorBaldwin and I authored,” Collins wrote in a tweet.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), whose daughter is married to a woman, commemorated the passage of the bill in the Senate.

“The Respect for Marriage Act is a momentous step toward greater justice for millions of Americans. No one in a same-sex marriage or an interracial marriage should have to worry if their marriage will be invalidated,” Schumer said.

PFLAG National celebrated the ruling while reminding their followers on Twitter that marriage equality alone will not achieve LGBTQ liberation. “While we still need the #EqualityAct to deliver much-needed anti-discrimination protections, passage of the Respect for Marriage Act moves us closer to achieving full equality for #LGBTQ+ people and their families,” the organization tweeted.

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