The US Senate on Wednesday advanced legislation that would provide federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, endorsing the measure in a bipartisan vote that moves it closer to becoming law. The 62 to 37 vote for cloture on the bill was a crucial test of support for the Respect for Marriage Act. I know we sometimes hear about cloture, but we don’t always know exactly what that means. Cloture is a Senate procedure that limits further consideration of a pending proposal to thirty hours in order to end a filibuster. Therefore, once the thirty hours are over, the bill will go before the Senate for debate. At this point, there is no longer a need for 60 votes to pass the legislation.
The Respect for Marriage Act is expected to be put up for a final vote in the Senate tomorrow. Once that happens, it will go back to the House of Representatives for another vote. As long as the House does not change anything, the bill will go to President Biden for his signature. I honestly can’t imagine the House trying to change anything. If that were to occur, the bill would have to go to a Conference Committee to reconcile the differing language before being sent back to the House and Senate for another round of votes. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi knows that she does not have time to waste with a Conference Committee. She knows that she has to put it before the House in the same form that it was passed in the Senate because Democrats will no longer have a majority on January 3.
In a speech on the Senate floor before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Today, the Senate is taking a truly bold step forward in the march toward greater justice, greater equality, by advancing the Respect for Marriage Act. It’s a simple, narrowly tailored but exceedingly important piece of legislation that will do so much good for so many Americans. It will make our country a better, fairer place to live.”
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who was among the group of Senate negotiators, highlighted the broad public support for same-sex marriage and noted that for most Americans, marriage equality is a settled question. “We’ve shown here through this legislation that these rights can coexist, religious freedom on the one hand, LGBTQ on the other hand,” Portman said. “It is my hope that with the changes we’ve talked about today and we’ve all now agreed to, we can pass this legislation with the same kind of overwhelming bipartisan majority we saw in the Houses of Representatives and therefore settle this issue once and for all.”
The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and safeguards same-sex and interracial marriage by requiring the recognition of valid marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.” The bill was introduced after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. There have been concerns from Democrats that a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas left decisions from the high court protecting the right to same-sex marriage under threat. The bill easily cleared the House in July with support from 47 Republicans. Though several GOP senators initially expressed support for the plan, Schumer agreed to postpone a vote on the legislation until after the midterm elections after some Republicans worried it would endanger religious freedom.
To assuage their concerns, the amendment ensures nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage and safeguards any benefit or status — such as tax-exemptions, grants, contracts or educational funding — of an entity so long as it does not arise from a marriage.
The amendment “recognizes the importance of marriage, acknowledges that diverse beliefs and the people who hold them are due respect, and affirms that couples, including same-sex and interracial couples, deserve the dignity, stability and ongoing protection of marriage,” according to the bipartisan group.
With the amendment, the bill will have to be taken up by the House once again before going to President Biden’s desk for his signature. The White House urged passage of the measure.
“The right to marriage confers vital legal protections, dignity, and full participation in our society,” the White House budget office said in a statement of administration policy. “No person should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love, and every married couple in the United States deserves the security of knowing that their marriage will be defended and respected.”
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