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The Senate is about to vote on a bill to protect same-sex marriage

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WASHINGTON — The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriage, putting Congress one step closer to passing a landmark bill and ensuring that such unions are enshrined in federal law.

Senate Democrats are moving quickly, while the party still holds majorities in both houses of Congress, to pass a bill that would require such unions to be legally recognized nationwide. The House of Representatives will still need to vote on the legislation and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill gained steady momentum after a Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down federal abortion rights, and comments by Justice Clarence Thomas at the time that suggested same-sex marriage could also be at risk. Bipartisan talks in the Senate began this summer after 47 Republicans unexpectedly voted in favor of the House bill and gave supporters renewed optimism.

The legislation would not codify the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which legalized gay marriage nationwide, and would not force any state to allow same-sex couples to marry. But it does require states to recognize all legal marriages where they are performed and to protect existing same-sex unions. It would also protect interracial marriage by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.”

“The rights of all married couples will never be safe without adequate protection under federal law, and that’s why the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-N.Y., said in a Senate speech ahead of a tentative vote on Monday. .

Passage of the law would be a major victory for Democrats as they usher in two years of consolidated power in Washington, and a huge victory for supporters who have pushed for decades to pass federal legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.

Schumer said it’s remarkable that the Senate is even having a debate. “Ten years ago, it would have stretched our imaginations to imagine both sides talking about protecting the rights of same-sex married couples,” he said.

A test vote Monday night moved the legislation closer to passage, with 12 Republicans who had previously supported the bill voting again to advance it. Democrats set up a vote Tuesday afternoon after Republicans voted down three GOP amendments that would protect the rights of religious institutions and others who still oppose such marriages.

Supporters of the law say the amendments are unnecessary because they are already amending the bill to clarify that it does not affect the rights of individuals or businesses currently enshrined in law. The amendment would also make it clear that marriage is between two people, in an effort to ward off criticism from the far-right that the law could sanction polygamy.

Republican Sen. Tom Tillis of North Carolina, who has lobbied his fellow GOP senators for months to support the legislation, points to the number of religious groups that support the bill, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of these groups were part of the bipartisan amendment negotiations.

“They see this as a step forward for religious freedom,” says Tillis.

The Utah-based denomination of nearly 17 million said in a statement earlier this month that church doctrine would continue to view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments. However, he said he would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they do not infringe on the right of religious groups to believe what they want.

Support from some religious groups reflects a shift in public sentiment on the issue, with a recent poll showing that more than two-thirds of the population support same-sex unions. But Congress was slower to act.

Most Republicans still oppose the law, saying it is unnecessary and citing religious liberties concerns. And some conservative groups have stepped up resistance in recent weeks.

“As I and others have argued for years, marriage is an exclusive, lifelong union between one man and one woman, and any deviation from that design undermines the inherent purpose of every child being raised in a stable home by a mom and dad. who conceived it,” the Heritage Foundation’s Roger Severino, vice president for domestic policy, wrote in a recent blog post opposing the bill.

In an effort to win the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a 50-50 Senate filibuster, Democrats delayed consideration until after the midterm elections, hoping it would ease political pressure on some GOP senators who may have wavered.

The delay seemed to work, and the eventual support of twelve Republicans gave the Democrats the votes they needed.

Along with Tillis, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio supported the bill early on and urged their Republican colleagues to support it. Republican senators Richard Burr of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Cynthia Lamis of Wyoming also voted for the law in two test votes. and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

The rise in GOP support for the issue is a stark contrast to a decade ago, when many Republicans were outspoken in their opposition to same-sex marriage.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has been involved in gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said earlier this month that the new openness of many Republicans on the issue reminds her “of the arc of the LBGTQ movement to begin with, in the early days, when there were no people and people knew gays by myths and stereotypes.’

Baldwin, the Senate’s lead negotiator for the legislation, said that as more people and families became visible, hearts and minds changed.

“And laws slowly followed,” she said. “This is history.”

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