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Senate passes landmark Respect for Marriage Act in bipartisan vote

Senate advances same-sex marriage bill
Bill protecting same-sex and interracial marriages clears critical Senate hurdle 05:05

Washington — The Senate on Tuesday night approved historic legislation that provides federal protections for same-sex marriages, moving the measure closer to President Biden's desk for his signature in the final weeks of the Democratic-controlled Congress. 

The bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, passed the evenly divided upper chamber 61 to 36, with 12 Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues in support of the proposal. It needed 60 votes to pass. The legislation garnered support from a wider margin of GOP senators after it was amended to include provisions protecting religious liberty. 

"What a great day," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor after the bill's passage. "What a great day." 

Before proceeding to final passage of the marriage equality bill, senators rejected three amendments proposed by Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Marco Rubio of Florida. With the approval by the upper chamber, the marriage equality plan returns to the House for a vote and, if cleared by the Democratic-led chamber as expected, will head to Mr. Biden to be signed into law. The White House supports the Respect for Marriage Act and has encouraged its passage by Congress.

Forty-seven Republicans joined Democrats this summer to pass an earlier version of the legislation.

Mr. Biden applauded the bill's passage by the Senate following the vote, particularly its bipartisan backing, and said he would welcome the group of Republican and Democratic senators who steered it through the upper chamber to the White House after it gets to his desk.

"With today's bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love," the president said in a statement. "For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own."

The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, unraveling the constitutional right to an abortion. Concerned that other Supreme Court decisions, including those that protected the right to same-sex marriage, could be in jeopardy, Democrats moved to enshrine the right to marriage equality into federal law.

The bill repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and safeguards interracial marriages by requiring that valid marriages are recognized regardless of "sex, race, ethnicity or national origin."

While the proposal garnered broad bipartisan support when it cleared the House in July, Senate Republicans raised concerns it would endanger religious freedom, prompting Schumer to postpone a vote to after the midterm elections.

A bipartisan group of five senators then reached a deal on changes to the bill that would assuage Republicans' objections.

The passage of the bill by both chambers of Congress demonstrates the significant shift in views on same-sex marriage, with support from Americans reaching a record high last year, according to a June 2021 poll from Gallup.

Numerous conservative organizations opposed the plan and called on senators to reject the bill. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out in support of the amended bill with the religious liberty protections.

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

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