Speed Reads

A modest proposal

Senate overcomes filibuster threat on marriage equality bill, putting it on track for Biden's signature

The Senate on Wednesday evening voted 62 to 37 to move forward with the Respect for Marriage Act, with 12 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to neuter a Republican filibuster. The Senate will now likely approve the bill, which enshrines marriage equality into federal law, as early as Thursday. The House passed the bill in July with support from a larger-than-expected 47 Republicans, but the lower chamber will have to approve it again if the Senate modifies the legislation with a pair of bipartisan amendments, as expected. 

President Biden urged Congress to finalize the law and send it to his desk. "Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love," he said in a statement.

The Respect for Marriage Act voids the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and requires the federal and state governments to recognize any marriage that was legal in the place it was performed. That provision won't kick in unless the conservative Supreme Court overturns its 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, as Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in June. The bill also protects interracial marriage by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The amendments proposed by the bill's five lead Senate sponsors — Republicans Rob Portman (Ohio), Susan Collins (Maine), and Thom Tillis (N.C.), and Democrats Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — would clarify that the federal government won't recognize polygamous marriages and clarifies that no "nonprofit religious organization" will be compelled under federal law to provide "any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage."

"As you can see, the bill is really very narrow," Portman said. "It's constitutional and it does not infringe on state sovereignty." Along with Portman, Collins, and Tillis, the Republican senators who voted to move forward with the bill were Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), and Todd Young (Ind.). 

Support for same-sex marriage has steadily risen since the Supreme Court legalized it. More than 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, now support marriage equality. Backers of the Respect for Marriage Act say it will align federal law with this broad majority support.