Historic Same-Sex Marriage Bill Progresses in the Senate

After making it through the house in July, the bill is set to be cleared by the Senate.

By Yasmine Abdeldayem

Photo Credit: AP

A man waves a U.S. flag and a rainbow flag in celebration of the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling to legalize gay marriage.

The Senate is set to pass historical legislation that will federally enshrine same-sex and interracial marriage rights.

When it was reviewed by the House of Representatives in July, its bipartisan vote of 267-157 constituted the most support for a pro-LGBTQ+ vote in the history of Congress. Democrats waited until after the midterm elections to bring the bill to the Senate floor, in hopes of gathering more Republican support.

The bill has received bipartisan support in the first crucial vote, with all 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans backing its advancement.

While the Respect for Marriage Act would not require states to issue same-sex marriage licenses, it would ensure that all states recognize marriage licenses that were obtained elsewhere. The legislation would also guarantee that same-sex marriages are recognized for government benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare.

It repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which was ruled unconstitutional in the United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges rulings in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Instead, the RFMA restructures the DOMA’s narrow definition of marriage between a man and a woman, while furthering protections for same-sex and interracial couples.

“When some Republicans say the vote is unnecessary, it won’t happen,” said Senator Chuck Schumer during a conference in September. “They said the same thing about Roe.”

On June 24, 2022, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision overturned Roe v. Wade, which was a 1973 ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion.

The advancement in the codification of marriage rights was spurred by Judge Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion during the overturning of Roe v. Wade. He pointed out that Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage, was upheld by the very legal factors that led to the crumbling of Roe.

“Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents,” Judge Thomas wrote.

Many consequently feared that a reversal of Obergefell could be on the horizon for the U.S. and quickly took action to preserve its core rights.

“The Supreme Court should not be in a position to undermine the stability of families with a stroke of a pen,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin, a supporter of the bill and the first openly gay member of the Senate. “This will give millions of loving couples the certainty, the dignity and the respect that they need and that they deserve.”

The 12 Republicans who voted in favor of the RFMA were Mitt Romney of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Todd Young of Indiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Joni Ernst of Iowa.

John Cornyn of Texas, who has primarily expressed concerns over the halting of the passage of the defense authorization bill, is among the many Republicans, like Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Thune of South Dakota, who voted no during Wednesday’s vote.

Though the first vote’s results could have allowed the bill to pass as early as this week, a final vote has been postponed until after the Thanksgiving holiday recess. Another procedural vote will be taken on the proposal, though some are questioning the need to prolong the process at all.

Once it is finalized in the Senate, the bill will return to the House for approval a second time before it is passed along to President Joe Biden for his signature.

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