Senate poised to pass historic same-sex and interracial marriage bill

(WASHINGTON) — The Senate is poised this week to pass landmark legislation to federally enshrine both same-sex and interracial marriage rights, amid what Democrats call a worry that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could overturn protections for both.

The first key test vote is set for Wednesday in the upper chamber.

A bipartisan group of supporters said this week that they are confident they have the necessary 60 votes — including 10 Republicans — to succeed there and have formal debate start on the bill. That would also set the measure on a track to pass as early as Thursday, if opponents agree to give up their dissent early before lawmakers head out on the week-long Thanksgiving recess.

“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,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., a lead co-sponsor of the bill and the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to Congress. “These loving couples should be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms as every other marriage.”

“I know passing the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staffs, myself included,” added Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said his own daughter and her wife, who are married, are expecting a baby in February.

Schumer argued that the concurring opinion issued by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas overturning Roe. v. Wade this summer, in which he said the court “should reconsider” the case granting the nationwide right to gay marriage, put the rights of LGBTQ Americans in jeopardy.

Other justices on the high court had taken pains to distance Thomas’ view from the majority opinion reversing Roe.

The Respect for Marriage 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,” according to a summary from the bill’s sponsors, including Congress’ first openly bisexual woman in the Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., along with Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

The bill would not require any state to issue marriage licenses contrary to its laws but would mandate that states recognize lawfully granted marriages performed in other states, including same-sex and interracial unions.

For Portman, whose son came out to him as gay several years ago, it’s about giving people “security in their marriages.”

“It’s important to give people comfort that they won’t lose their rights as they move from state to state. It’s a pretty simple bill,” he said, adding that the American people have evolved to support the issue and Congress should too.

But some Republicans called the legislation unnecessary.

“I think it’s pretty telling that Sen. Schumer puts a bill on the floor to reaffirm what is already a constitutional right of same-sex marriage, which is not under any imminent threat, and continues to ignore national security and not take up the defense authorization bill,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, referring to the annual defense policy bill that has yet to be passed by the chamber this year.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., in charge of the vote operation for the GOP conference, has said he would not support the legislation but also made clear he would not be whipping against the measure.

Notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has steadfastly refused to say how he would vote on the proposal.

A similar bill passed the House in July with 47 Republicans voting in favor, but its Senate sponsors, in order to garner enough GOP support for final passage, had to amend the legislation to add specific religious liberty and conscience protections.

Schumer also pushed off a vote past the midterms, hoping to draw more conservative votes in the Senate once the political considerations of the campaign had passed.

The bill, once through the Senate and then approved by the House for a second time, would be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

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