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The Senate voted to move forward with the Respect for Marriage Act with bipartisan support.
The vast majority of Americans—and, apparently, the Mormon church—support legal same-sex marriage. So, I’m not sure which is more surprising: that 12 Republicans voted to move forward with a vote codifying it in federal law, or that 37 voted against doing so.
The Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the House in July, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize marriages that were valid in the state in which they were performed. The version of the bill advanced in the Senate today included an amendment clarifying that the legislation would respect religious liberty and would not require the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.
Several Republican senators, including Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Thom Tillis (North Carolina) spoke on the chamber floor in support of the bill on Wednesday. The bill’s opponents have argued that it’s unnecessary, since Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that required states to recognize same-sex marriage, is unlikely to be challenged in court. (Never mind that Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly questioned the validity of Obergefell in his concurring opinion to the decision overturning Roe v. Wade.)
In her statement, Collins argued that the likelihood of the Supreme Court taking up Obergefell was inconsequential. “Regardless of one’s views on that possibility, 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,” she said.
One notable Republican dissenter was Ron Johnson, who in July said that he had “no reason to oppose” before deciding in September that he did, in fact, oppose it. Johnson represents Wisconsin alongside Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
In August, Johnson reportedly shared a text message exchange with Baldwin suggesting that he supported the measure. He later said that his initial comments were an attempt “to get [the media] off my back.”
The 12 Republicans who broke with the rest of their party to support the bill helped the Senate pass the 62-vote threshold needed to break the filibuster and move forward with the bill. An official vote is expected after Thanksgiving. The House will then have to approve the revised measure before it heads to President Biden’s desk.