The Senate Thursday cleared the way for a bill enshrining same-sex marriage rights while also providing a layer of religious freedom, setting up final passage of the Respect for Marriage Act later this week.
The chamber voted 61-35 to defeat a filibuster that would have prevented the bill from moving forward.
Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person to serve in the Senate, and other senators added the amendment to the House-passed bill to leave room for religious or conscientious objections.
“Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality,” she said in a joint statement with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ron Portman of Ohio.
The bill would guarantee federal recognition of any marriage between two individuals if the union was valid in the state where it was performed. It would also require states to accept the legitimacy of a valid marriage performed elsewhere but not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its own law.
“We all know that for all the progress we’ve made on same-sex marriage, the rights of all married couples will never truly be safe without the proper protections under federal law,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Monday afternoon prior to the vote. “Passing this bill is our chance to send a message to Americans everywhere: no matter who you are or who you love, you too deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law. That’s about as American (an) ideal as it comes.”
If approved, individuals or groups would not be legally required to provide services for a wedding ceremony or celebration if it’s against their religious beliefs. It also would not recognize polygamous unions.
The Respect for Marriage Act already passed a crucial step two weeks ago when 12 Republicans joined every other Democrat to reach 62 votes – a majority large enough to defeat a filibuster. If passed Thursday, the bill would head back to the House (which approved a similar measure) and then to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Even with the new measure, some in the GOP are still expected to vote no on final passage later this week, including Baldwin’s Badger State counterpart, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who came out publicly against the act earlier this month.
“The substitute amendment did not provide sufficient protection for those with strongly held religious beliefs and leaves a lane open for discrimination by activist groups, state governments and the IRS,” Johnson said in a statement.
The bill was drafted in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer and Justice Clarence Thomas expressed interest in next reconsidering same-sex and interracial marriage rights. The House approved the act in July, sending it on to the Senate where a vote was delayed until after the midterm elections.