On Tuesday, the Senate passed landmark legislation to mandate federal recognition for same-sex marriages. Congress, finishing out a lame-duck session, mustered support for a moment of bipartisanship before Congress moves to Republican control in January.
After passing a 61-to-36 vote, the bill is scheduled to become law in the final weeks of the year. It marks one of the final crucial legislative achievements for Democrats before Republicans shift focus once they assume control.
The bill will need to now win final approval in the House in a vote expected as soon as next week, which would clear the way for Biden to sign it before the winter recess.
In a statement, President Biden said the vote reaffirmed “a fundamental truth: Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love.”
Proponents of the bill had a breakthrough this month, gaining GOP supporters and overcoming a filibuster, which gave the momentum required for the legislation to become law.
The bill would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied same-sex couples federal benefits if signed into law. It prohibits states from denying the validity of an out-of-state marriage based on race, ethnicity, or sex.
However, Republican backers insisted on a condition that guaranteed religious organizations wouldn’t be required to provide any services or goods for the celebration of any marriage and couldn’t lose benefits or tax-exempt status for refusing to recognize same-sex unions.
“Because of our work together, the rights of tens of millions of Americans will be strengthened under federal law. That’s an accomplishment we should all be proud of,” said Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer of New York — currently the majority leader in the Senate.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers built Republican support in the Senate
A group of bipartisan lawmakers, led by Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, worked to build sufficient GOP support in the Senate since the summer when 47 Republicans in the House joined Democrats in support of the measure.
Two weeks ago, senators agreed on a revised version, answering Republican concerns that the measure could trample the religious freedom of institutions that won’t recognize same-sex marriages. The revisions allowed the bill to clear its most significant hurdle in the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority.
However, some GOP members were not persuaded. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah dismissed the legislation as a response to a “fantasy” and an “imagined threat” that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the ultimate right to same-sex marriage.
“It is and will remain legal nationwide regardless of the outcome of this legislation before us,” said Lee. “On the other hand, we have current, real, sustained, ongoing assaults on religious freedom.”
Lee tried but failed to attach changes to the bill he said would strongly support religious freedoms.
Twelve Republicans voted for the measure partly because of changes made during bipartisan negotiations. During the negotiations, senators agreed to add language ensuring universities, churches, and other nonprofit religious organizations could not be punished for declining to recognize same-sex marriages.
Language was also added to clarify the bill does not authorize or require the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.