Senate signals support for amended version of the Respect for Marriage Act
Sen. Mitt Romney was one of 12 Republicans who voted for amended measure protecting religious liberty, while fellow Sen. Mike Lee voted against it
The U.S. Senate signaled support for an amended version of the Respect for Marriage Act that supporters say provides federal protections for both same-sex marriages and religious freedom.
The Senate voted 62-37 to end debate and consider the bill, with a final vote possible as soon as Thursday. If passed, the revised act would proceed to a new vote in the House, which passed the original version of the bill in July.
Utah’s senators split their votes. Sen. Mitt Romney was one of 12 Republicans who voted in support of the amended measure, while fellow Sen. Mike Lee voted against it.
“This legislation provides important protections for religious liberty — measures which are particularly important to protect the religious freedoms of our faith-based institutions,” Sen. Romney said in a statement. “I appreciate the efforts of Senators Baldwin, Collins and others to address this concern and heartily support their legislation.”
Romney added: “While I believe in traditional marriage, Obergefell is and has been the law of the land upon which LGBTQ individuals have relied. This legislation provides certainty to many LGBTQ Americans, and it signals that Congress — and I — esteem and love all of our fellow Americans equally.”
Sen. Lee said in a tweet after the vote that he did not believe the measure’s religious freedom protections were robust enough.
“I voted against the motion to proceed to the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ because the religious liberty protections were severely anemic and largely illusory,” Sen Lee wrote. “While I respect the efforts and emotions surrounding this issue, the bill does not simply codify Obergefell as its proponents claim. And despite the proposed amendment from Senators Collins and Baldwin, the religious-liberty protections are woefully insufficient. Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions and non-profits will be threatened. My amendment would have shored up these vulnerabilities. It is a shame it wasn’t included.”
The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act in July. The original House bill passed with 47 Republicans voting in favor.
The bill would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, a definition previously struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Those laws still sit there on the books. The Supreme Court says, ‘Thou shalt not enforce that law,’ but those laws should come off the books,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs for the University of Illinois. Wilson helped draft the Utah Compromise, a 2015 law that broadly protected LGBTQ rights and religious freedom.
Same-sex marriage advocates have expressed concern that a more conservative Supreme Court could reverse court rulings for same-sex marriage, especially since Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his opinion in the Dobbs case that overturned Roe V. Wade that the court could reconsider past rulings on marriage.
The Respect for Marriage Act would ensure federal recognition of same-sex marriages that take place in states where they are legal. The bill would not require states to allow same-sex couples to marry, but it would repeal and replace both provisions of federal law that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, The New York Times reported.
Republicans and others said the original House version of the Respect for Marriage Act lacked religious liberty protections.
The proponents of the Senate’s new version of the Respect for Marriage Act say it would explicitly protect people of faith and faith-based nonprofits.
A bipartisan group of senators suggested amendments they said would ensure, according to The New York Times, “that churches, universities and other nonprofit religious organizations could not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and could not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage. They also added language to make clear that the bill does not require or authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.”
“This is literally a way for both sides to have their interests affirmed and to be respected and treated with dignity,” Wilson said.
She noted that same-sex spouses have relied on the court’s rulings to start families that now include more than 1 million children.
“I find it hard to believe that states would try to roll that back,” Wilson said, “but there are a lot of religious people who are afraid that they don’t know how to proceed around marriage after Obergefell, and there’s this new fear after Dobbs for those families that have been able to have marriage open to them with all those protections for them and their children. Then why not set both of those sets of fears to rest?”
The Times called the vote “a rare and notable last gasp of bipartisanship by a lame duck Congress as lawmakers looked toward an era of political gridlock in a divided Washington.”
Republicans will take control of the House in the next Congress, which will be seated in January. Democrats retained control of the Senate.
“We’re watching history being made,” Wilson said. “I think given a climate in which we appear so polarized and we look like two tribes, we acted like one today.”
Faith groups were split on the effectiveness of the religious liberty amendments to the act.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement released Tuesday that an approach that preserves both the rights of LGBTQ people and religious freedom is the way forward.
“We believe this approach is the way forward. As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding,” the statement said in part.
“Our hope is that the Respect for Marriage Act will expand civil rights for LGBT Americans while at the same time protecting principles of religious liberty and diversity which are central to our Constitution,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, an Orthodox Jewish organization.