The Senate is set to approve same-sex marriage legislation as early as this week after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., moved to bring the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, for a vote before the full Senate.
The measure would enshrine marriage equality months after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas raised the spectre of reversing the 2015 landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision recognizing same sex unions.
Senators are expected to hold a vote Wednesday to bypass the 60-vote filibuster and clear the way for final passage as early as Friday.
Thomas called on his fellow justices to “reconsider” other rights established by the high court in the wake of its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, including access to contraception and gay marriage, in an opinion that sparked an outcry on the left.
Thomas’ opinion concurring with the court’s decision to remove constitutional protections for abortion access prompted the Democratic-led House to pass a marriage equality bill in July and the Democratic-led Senate to bring a bill to the floor this week.
“The American people want people to have the freedom to marry whom they love and choose,” said Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. “Individuals in same sex marriages and interracial marriages need and deserve the confidence and the certainty that their marriages are legal and will remain legal. These loving couples should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms as every other marriage.”
Schumer said he wants to pass the bill and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature as soon as possible though it would have to go back to the House first.
“I want to be clear that passing this bill is not at all a theoretical exercise,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “But it’s as real as it gets.”
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Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz voiced his opposition to the bipartisan legislation in a September episode of his podcast, saying the bill would punish religious institutions that use a “biblical definition of marriage” through a loss of funding.
“This bill, without a religious liberty protection would have massive consequences across our country, weaponizing the Biden administration to go and target universities, K-12 schools, social services organizations, churches and strip them all of their tax-status,” Cruz said. “That is enormously consequential.”
Trying to address concerns over religious liberty, the bipartisan group of senators led by Baldwin unveiled an amendment to the legislation Monday aimed at addressing concerns from conservative lawmakers over religious liberty concerns.
The updated language would no longer require nonprofit religious organizations to provide support or facilities for same-sex marriages. And it would not recognize polygamous marriages.
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Not acting would ‘put LGBTQ families at risk’
“Millions of Americans are facing dire consequences of what it would mean if Clarence Thomas has his way. Congress cannot allow the court to put LGBTQ families at risk,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin told reporters Tuesday.
LGBTQ activists also warned that the loss of abortion protections could lead to the loss of protections for same-sex marriage.
“It is up to the Senate to create the law of the land, that all are able to marry whom they love equally,” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance. “That is just foundational. It’s fundamental.”
Raushenbush, an ordained Baptist minister, has performed more than 100 straight and same-sex weddings. He also said that the bill will offer protection to LGBTQ couples and families.
“Our religious freedom to perform marriages and have marriages is also something that should be respected by legislators and the courts,” he said. “Having performed all these same-sex marriages … I have to stand up for those because I said to them ‘by the power vested in me by the government, you are declared married’ and I’m not going to turn my back on those marriages.”
In July, the House passed the bill in a 267-157 vote— all 220 Democrats voted in favor, with 47 Republicans also supporting the Respect for Marriage Act, which also legalizes interracial marriages.
If the Senate passes the legislation Wednesday, the House will have to vote on the amendment for final passage.
Contributing: Rachel Looker