Laws protecting same-sex and interracial marriage in the United States cleared a major hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday, putting Congress on track to take the historic step of ensuring such unions are enshrined in federal law.
Twelve Republicans voted with all Democrats to advance the legislation, meaning a final vote could come as early as this week or later this month.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill to ensure legal recognition of unions is an opportunity for the Senate to “live up to its highest ideals” and protect marriage equality for all people.
“It will make our country a better, fairer place to live,” Schumer said, noting that his daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.
Senate Democrats are moving quickly to pass legislation while the party still controls the House of Representatives. Republicans won the majority in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is unlikely to address the issue next year.
In a statement after the vote, President Joe Biden said he would sign the bill when it passed. “Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” he said.
The bill has gained steady momentum since the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion. Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion at the time suggested that an earlier high court ruling protecting same-sex marriage could also be in jeopardy.
The bill would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they took place. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages without regard to “sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.”
Congress has moved to protect same-sex marriage as support from the general public — and Republicans in particular — has surged in recent years since the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision legalized gay marriage nationwide. A recent poll showed that more than two-thirds of the public support same-sex unions.
Still, many Republicans in Congress were reluctant to support the law, with many saying it was unnecessary while marriages were still protected by the courts. Democrats delayed consideration until after the midterm elections, hoping it would ease political pressure on some Republican senators who might be wavering.
The growing Republican support for the issue is a stark contrast even a decade ago, when many were vocal opponents of same-sex marriage. The bill passed the House on a vote in July with the support of 47 Republicans — a larger-than-expected turnout that gave the measure a boost in the Senate.
On Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the latest conservative-leaning group to support the legislation. In a statement, the Utah-based faith said church doctrine would continue to hold same-sex relationships against God’s commandments, but would support rights for same-sex couples as long as they did not infringe on the right of religious groups to believe as they choose.
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has been involved in gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said the newfound openness of many Republicans on the issue reminds her “of the beginning of the LBGTQ movement with, in the early days when people weren’t out and when gay people were known by myths and stereotypes.”
Baldwin said that as more individuals and families became visible, hearts and minds changed.
“And slowly the laws followed,” she said. “It’s history.”
Schumer said it was a personal issue for him as well.
“Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staff, including me,” Schumer said. “My daughter and her wife are actually expecting a baby in February. So it’s very important for a lot of us to do this.”