The US Senate voted to pass the Respect for Marriage Act on Tuesday, the first step in protecting marriages between same-sex and interracial couples at the federal level.
The vote to pass the bill was bipartisan: 61 to 36. Every Democratic senator voted “yes,” and they were joined by a number of Republicans including Iowa’s Joni Ernst. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s other Republican senator, voted “no.”
During a prior vote, Ernst said she supported the bill after hearing from Iowans and closely reviewing amended language that protected religious freedoms. Contrastly, Grassley said he supports same-sex and interracial marriage but voted against the bill because he thought it put religious freedoms at risk.
However, the bill explicitly ensures nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage.
The bill’s passage comes as Democrats and LGBTQ advocates have expressed growing fear over the possibility that the landmark 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges—which legalized gay marriage nationwide—could possibly be overturned following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year. While the Respect for Marriage Act does not codify Obergefell, it does require states that ban same-sex marriages to recognize these marriages from other states in the event that Obergefell is overturned and those bans are allowed to go into place.
The bill also protects interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted, this vote could have happened earlier this year, but more time was needed to gain support from enough Republicans to pass the bill.
The author of the bill, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is the first openly gay American elected to the Senate. She recently revised the bill to garner some Republican support, adding language to clarify that religious organizations would retain the right to refuse to perform same-sex marriages and that polygamous marriages would not be protected by the federal government.
“We’re making a really positive difference in people’s lives by creating the certainty that their ability to protect their families will be lasting,” Baldwin told NBC News.
Now the bill heads to the House, where it is expected to pass, before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. Proponents of the bill want the legislation to pass before Republicans take control of the House on Jan. 3.
by Isabel Soisson
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