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Marriage Equality Bill Moves Forward in Senate With Bipartisan Vote

Married gay couple holding hands with their rings shown
Image via Shutterstock

The vote isn't final passage, but it's a key step forward.


The U.S. Senate has advanced the Respect for Marriage Act. It's not the final passage, but it's a key step forward.

The Senate Wednesday afternoon voted 62-37 to move the legislation forward, with 12 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats and independents.

The vote now allows the Senate to begin debate on the bill, bringing it closer to a final vote. There may have to be a second vote to close debate, but that may not be necessary now that it's reached the 60-vote threshold once. A final vote to pass the bill would require only a simple majority.

The legislation would write marriage equality into federal law and protect it from Supreme Court action, given that Justice Clarence Thomas has called for the overturning of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 high court ruling that struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. It would also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down in Obergefell and Windsor v. U.S. but remains on the books, and would guarantee the right to interracial marriage as enshrined in the high court's Loving v. Virginia ruling in 1967.

This week a bipartisan group of senators came up with an amendment meant to allay concerns that the act would interfere with religious liberty. The House of Representatives has already passed the original version of the bill, but if the Senate passes it with the amendment, it would have to go back to the House.

"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," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor before the vote, according to CBS. "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."

The Republicans who voted in favor of advancing the bill were Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Todd Young of Indiana.

Portman, an early marriage equality supporter among Republicans -- he has a gay son -- had this to say: "We've shown here through this legislation that these rights can coexist, religious freedom on the one hand, LGBTQ on the other hand. 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 House of Representatives and therefore settle this issue once and for all."

President Joe Biden issued this statement: "Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love. Today's bipartisan vote brings the United States one step closer to protecting that right in law. The Respect for Marriage Act will ensure that LGBTQI+ couples and interracial couples are respected and protected equally under federal law, and provide more certainty to these families since the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs. I want to thank the Members of Congress whose leadership has sent a strong message that Republicans and Democrats can work together to secure the fundamental right of Americans to marry the person they love. I urge Congress to quickly send this bill to my desk where I will promptly sign it into law."

Civil rights groups also released statements praising the vote. "Any Senator who votes against this bill is casting a vote that harms LGBTQ Americans and is out of touch with a bipartisan supermajority of Americans who support the freedom to marry," said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. "Since the first legal marriages for same-sex couples took place in 2004, marriage equality has improved the lives of countless LGBTQ people and their families. As extremist politicians push anti-LGBTQ playbooks on the state level and right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices overturn other legal precedent, the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act is an opportunity for our leaders to come together to send a message of equal treatment for everyone. All married couples, including same-sex and interracial couples, are worthy of dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law."

Incoming Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson issued this statement: "The devastating United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a clear reminder that we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing too many of our hard fought for rights. In the concurring opinion, Justice Thomas made the outrageous suggestion that Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges should be next to be challenged. It is clear there is an urgent, dire need to ensure, once and for all, that the days of debate around marriage equality are over. The will of the people is on our side. 568,000 same-sex, married couples across America rely upon the decisions in Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges, and they deserve to know that the federal government has no intention of going back to the dark days of DOMA. The Respect for Marriage Act is an essential piece of legislation that affirms that every marriage, and every family, is valid and beautiful. Today's strong bipartisan vote of 62-37 for cloture is an incredible victory that cannot be taken lightly--this vote was the bill's biggest procedural roadblock, and now we steer our focus forward to the Senate's final vote on this historic legislation. Our work is not done."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser offered this: "The Respect for Marriage Act is a vital step in our nation's march toward freedom without favor and equality without exception. Today the Senate re-affirmed that marriages between two consenting adults, regardless of race or sex, must be treated as equal under the law. America's constitutional promise of church-state separation requires this equal treatment and ensures that we all can live as ourselves and marry the person we love. The Respect for Marriage Act is crucial to secure LGBTQ equality, racial justice and religious freedom for all. When the ultra-conservative members of the Supreme Court abolished the right to abortion, they signaled that marriage equality could be next on their chopping block. Congress had to act to protect the rights established by Obergefell v. Hodges and Loving v. Virginia. We look forward to President Biden signing this popular, bipartisan act into law."

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.