Feature

Where key Senate Republicans stand on the Respect for Marriage bill

The bill now heads back to the House

The Respect for Marriage Act has officially cleared the Senate, where it advanced in a 61-36 vote at the end of November. The bill, which aims to enshrine the right to same-sex and interracial marriage into federal law, will now head back to the House (where it initially passed over the summer) so the lawmakers there can approve a Senate-added religious freedom carve-out.

While President Biden readies his pen, here's a quick look at where several prominent GOP lawmakers in the upper chamber stand on the legislation, as well as how they voted when the moment arrived:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): Yes

The moderate Collins was a lead co-sponsor of the bill — alongside Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — meaning her support for the legislation was guaranteed.

"Maine voters legalized same-sex marriages in our state nearly a decade ago, and since Obergefell, all Americans have had the right to marry the person whom they love," Collins said in a July press release. "This bill is another step to promote equality, prevent discrimination, and protect the rights of all Americans." Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio): Yes

Portman was also a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, and described a vote on the issue as sending an "important message."

"When you look at the House vote and you look at just the shifting sentiment about this issue," he said in July, per CNN. "I think this is an issue that many Americans, regardless of political affiliation, feel has been resolved." The Ohio lawmaker previously announced his support for same-sex marriage after his son came out as gay, CNN noted.

Plus, "the bill is very narrow," Portman added in November, following a test vote in the Senate. "It's constitutional and it does not infringe on state sovereignty."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): Yes

Murkowski, another moderate, voted in support of the bill. "I have long made known public my support for marriage equality," she said in July, per Bloomberg.

Asked for comment by CNN, Murkowski said around the same time that "not only would I like to see Roe, Casey, and Griswold on contraception codified but I've also made clear my support … for gay marriage years ago."

Murkowski also voted "yes" during the procedural vote on Nov. 16. "I have long supported marriage equality and believe all lawful marriages deserve respect," she wrote in a statement afterward. "All Americans deserve dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law."

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.): Yes

Tillis, one of the bill's lead co-sponsors, voted "yes" during both the procedural vote and the final vote.

"We still have a lot more work to do, but I believe that this is a sound bill that also addresses a number of questions outstanding with respect to future Supreme Court decisions," Tillis said Nov. 17, the day after the test vote. "So, we had a good vote yesterday."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah): Yes, though previously unclear

Unlike other GOP lawmakers and most Democrats, Romney has said he's not worried about the Supreme Court revisiting past decisions like Obergefell, as was suggested by Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade (1973).

Thomas has "opened a lot of doors that no other justices walk through," Romney said in July. In regards to the Respect for Marriage Act, the senator told reporters he hasn't thought much about the necessity of the legislation, considering same-sex marriage is currently legal.

"We all know what the law is. I haven't given consideration to that legislation, in part because the law isn't changing and there's no indication that it will," he said. "And clearly, the legislation from the House is unnecessary, given the fact that the law is the same, and we'll take a look at it as it comes our way." 

In November, however, Romney was among the 12 Republicans that voted "yes" during the test vote. "This legislation provides important protections for religious liberty — measures which are particularly important to protect the religious freedoms of our faith-based institutions," the senator said that same day. "This legislation provides certainty to many LGBTQ Americans, and it signals that Congress — and I — esteem and love all of our fellow Americans equally." 

Romney is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which in the fall issued a statement in support of the bill (likely because of the proposed religious freedom amendments), per The Salt Lake Tribune. That said, the church noted that its stance on "marriage between a man and a woman … will remain unchanged."

Romney ultimately joined 11 other Senate Republicans in voting to officially clear the legislation.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): No

When asked previously if he'd vote to support the House-passed legislation, McConnell replied, "I'm gonna delay announcing anything on that issue until we see what the majority leader wants to put on the floor." But he voted against the bill during the procedural vote and final vote at the end of November, despite being in an interracial marriage himself.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): No

Cruz, who said on an episode of his podcast that he believes Obergefell was wrongly decided and should be overturned, was never expected to vote in favor of the bill. "If you succeeded in convincing your fellow citizens, then your state would change the laws," he said during the July episode in question. "In Obergefell, the court said, 'No, we know better than you.'" Notably, however, the senator went on to clarify that he does not believe the court has "any appetite" for overturning the ruling.

On a later podcast episode in September, Cruz called the Respect for Marriage Act an attack on religious freedom and said he would vote against it, per The Texas Tribune.

He made good on that promise when the moment arrived, voting "no" during both the procedural vote and the final tally.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): No

Cornyn, who was once thought to be a possible "yes" on the bill, essentially cemented his opposition back in July. "This is a contrived controversy in pursuit of a political narrative that somehow that decision by the Supreme Court is in jeopardy," the senator said of the legislation. "I don't believe it is, and this is an effort to try to stoke the fires of political activists and scare them with a narrative that I think is a false narrative."

The day before the test vote, Cornyn told reporters he would not support the bill because gay marriage is "already a Constitutional right." He voted "no" at the end of November. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): No

In July, Rubio explicitly told CNN he would vote "no" on the bill, which he called a "stupid waste of time." The Florida senator said Congress should be focusing on "real issues" like inflation and energy, instead.

"Those aren't real issues. I've never seen a person come up to me and talk about getting rid of gay marriage," Rubio said in the wake of the initial House vote. "This is what [Democrats'] base is demanding that they do." Rubio voted against the bill's final Senate passage in November.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): No

At one point, Graham said he'd be voting against the Respect for Marriage Act because he supports the old measure the new bill wants to repeal. The Defense of Marriage Act, as it is called, "allowed individual states not to recognize marriages performed in other states until it was ruled unconstitutional in Obergefell," The Hill writes.

He later voted against the Nov. 16 procedural measure because "nothing in the bill adds new protections for gay marriage," he wrote on Twitter at the time. Rather, "it creates great uncertainty about religious liberty and institutions who oppose gay marriage." As part of his decision, Graham cited the rejection of an amendment proposed by Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R), which, per Lee, would have "shored up" the litigation and tax-exempt vulnerabilities of certain religious charities, educational institutions, and non-profits under the bill. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), however, called the carve-out "unnecessary."

Graham ultimately voted "no" during the final bill's tally. On Twitter, he said his "chief objection" was the "woefully inadequate" religious freedom provisions, and once again cited Lee's proposed amendment as one that would have made a difference.

Update Nov. 30: This article has been updated throughout to reflect Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

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