The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 to pass the Respect for Marriage Act Tuesday, which seeks to federally recognize any marriage between two people as long as it’s valid in a U.S. state, codifying the 2015 Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges.
It now moves to the House of Representatives, which passed a similar bill this year. Because of a narrow amendment, the House will need to vote again before it heads to President Joe Biden’s desk where he promised to quickly sign the bill.
“What a great day. What a great day,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said from the Senate floor immediately following the vote, telling his colleagues the first thing he would do that evening is call his daughter and her wife.
The bill includes amendments protecting religious liberty that garnered the support of some religious organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which called the approach “the way forward,” and included considerations of religious liberty that were important to secure the necessary 60 votes to pass the bill.
“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.
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 bill passed with 12 Republicans voting in favor, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney who signaled his support for the bill earlier in the month after other amendments helped solidify “important protections for religious liberty,” he said.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Romney was joined by Republican Sens. Todd Young of Indiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee voted against the bill, after his attempt to bolster protections for religious liberty in an amendment failed Tuesday to garner the necessary 60 votes.
“This is a discouraging development in our country’s storied history of protecting the free exercise of religion. While I’m disappointed that my amendment was not included, I remain committed to preserving the religious liberties enshrined in our Constitution for all Americans,” Lee said in a statement Tuesday.
Lee has been skeptical of the legislation and said its efforts to protect religious liberty don’t go far enough. On the Senate floor Tuesday, he said “there’s no existing threat to same-sex marriage. It is and will remain legal nationwide regardless of the outcome of this legislation.”
“... I’m not aware of a single state in the United States threatening to pass any law infringing the ability of any same-sex couples to marry or enjoy the privileges associated with marriage,” he said.
His concerns with the bill include universities and nonprofits that he said could have tax-exempt status threatened for failing to recognize a same-sex marriage on religious grounds.
The Respect for Marriage Act was drafted this summer in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which for decades enshrined the right to an abortion. In the decision to overturn Roe, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also wrote that the court should reexamine other rulings.
“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote.
The Respect for Marriage Act was subsequently drafted and passed by the House in July. The Senate then decided to postpone a vote until after the midterms, a bipartisan effort to ensure the bill had enough support.
It was later amended with provisions pertaining to religious liberty — those amendments direct the federal government to not recognize polygamous marriages and guarantees nonprofit religious groups are not required to provide “services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”
On Monday, the Respect for Marriage Act and its religious liberty-inspired amendments received bipartisan support in the Senate during an earlier procedural vote, garnering “yes” votes from 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
That vote set the stage for a vote on Lee’s amendment, and two other amendments proposed by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., respectively. Lankford and Rubio’s amendments addressed similar concerns over religious liberty. Both amendments failed to gain the necessary support for passage ahead of the final Senate vote late Tuesday afternoon.