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U.S. Senate advances bill to codify same-sex marriage protections

United State capitol in Washington, D.C. © iStock - Muni Yogeshwaran
Casey Harper

(The Center Square) – The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to end debate on legislation to codify same-sex marriage protections. The procedural action does not fully pass the bill out of the Senate, but sets it up for likely passage later this week with a possible vote Thursday.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling motivated this legislative effort. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., has helped lead the effort. Her office said the “Respect for Marriage Act” would “require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed.”

Notably, the bill would “guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin, but the bill would not require a State to issue a marriage license contrary to state law.”

“The Respect for Marriage Act is a needed step to provide millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages the certainty that they will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages,” Sens. Baldwin, Susan Collins, R-Maine., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a joint statement.

From the bill’s official summary:

Specifically, the bill repeals and replaces provisions that define, for purposes of federal law, marriage as between a man and a woman and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law (The Supreme Court held that the current provisions were unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor in 2013.) The bill also repeals and replaces provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with provisions that prohibit the denial of full faith and credit or any right or claim relating to out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. (The Supreme Court held that state laws barring same-sex marriages were unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015; the Court held that state laws barring interracial marriages were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.) The bill allows the Department of Justice to bring a civil action and establishes a private right of action for violations.

A key sticking point for the legislative effort has been religious liberty protections. Religious liberty advocates fear the bill could be weaponized to target conscientious objectors as demonstrated by lawsuits around the country against florists, bakers and other small businesses unwilling to participate in same-sex ceremonies.

Baldwin’s office has addressed those concerns, claiming “non-profit religious organizations will not be required to provide any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” Critics say any provisions of that kind could still quietly be removed later.

“The deceitfully named Respect for Marriage Act will be voted on by the US Senate this week, as early as Wednesday,” Franklin Graham, resident of Samaritan's Purse and son of Billy Graham, said Wednesday. “The bill strikes a blow at religious freedom for individuals [and] ministries [and] is really the ‘Destruction of Marriage Act.’"