Same-Sex Marriage Bill Advances in Senate With Republican Support

(Bloomberg) -- Legislation protecting the right of same-sex couples to marry advanced in the Senate on Wednesday, setting it up for passage by a simple majority as soon as this week.

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The 62-37 procedural vote is a major win for Democrats, who have raised concerns that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court might reconsider a ruling that extended those rights. Twelve Republican joined all Democrats to advance the legislation after the bill’s sponsors reached an agreement on language for an amendment to attract more GOP votes.

“You know, the long trek to equality in America is bumpy. But it’s a good thing to bet on the side of equality in the long run,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote.

The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Tammy Baldwin and Republican Susan Collins, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between a man and a woman under federal law. That law was struck down by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which requires all states to grant and recognize same-sex marriages.

Democrats said the bill was necessary protect the rights of same-sex couples following the Supreme Court’s move to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion on the Dobbs case that the court should review other “due process precedents” including the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.

“He was essentially providing an open invitation to litigators across the country to bring their cases to the court, inevitably instilling fear among millions of Americans,” Baldwin said in a floor speech Wednesday. “The Supreme Court should not be in a position to undermine the stability of families with the stroke of a pen.”

Some Republicans argued that the bill is unnecessary and raised doubt on whether the Supreme Court would overturn the Obergefell ruling.

Collins, a Maine Republican, argued Wednesday that regardless of the possibility of the case being overturned, “there is still value in ensuring that our federal laws reflect that same-sex and interracial couples have the right to have their marriages recognized regardless of where they live in this country.”

The bill would federally recognize same-sex marriages and ensure benefits for all married couples.

If the Supreme Court overturned Obergefell v. Hodges, states would be allowed to refuse to issue same-sex marriages. But the bill would require these states to recognize marriage licenses issued in other states where these unions are legal regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The amendment to the bill ensures that the measure would not diminish religious and conscience protections and would not infringe on benefits, rights or status unrelated to marriage.

Civil rights groups, businesses, some religious organizations and church clergy have expressed support for passage of the bill.

The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act in July on a 267-157 bipartisan vote. But if the Senate passes a revised bill, as expected, the House would have to vote again on the measure.

Schumer said he brought the legislation to the floor after last week’s midterm elections to give it the best chance for attracting GOP votes.

“I think had we voted earlier, we would have lost it,” Schumer said. “We never would have been able to come back.”

Aside from Collins, the Republicans who voted to proceed with the legislation were Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and Rob Portman of Ohio.

--With assistance from Laura Litvan and Laura Davison.

(Updates with new Schumer quotes in third and 15th paragraphs and list of GOP supporters in last paragraph.)

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