The Senate voted 62-37 to advance the Respect for Marriage Act — a bill meant to protect the right to same-sex marriage in America. Based on the number in favor of the bill in the procedural vote, the Senate is expected to easily pass the measure, then send it back to the House for a second vote before it lands on President Joe Biden’s desk.
The bill is one of 2022′s most surprising legislative developments. After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, activists argued that Congress needed to pass a bill enshrining same-sex marriage in case the court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that solidified same-sex marriage as a liberty protected under the 14th Amendment. But few expected the Respect for Marriage Act would actually make it through — until the House of Representatives cleared the bill in July with bipartisan support.
Some Senate Republicans expressed concern that the Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t do enough to protect religious liberty (though experts have argued that is not the case). These concerns posed hurdles to supporters of the bill in the early fall when lawmakers were trying to gather enough votes to get it through the Senate. To quell these worries, a group of bipartisan lawmakers met to carve out more explicit religious protections with hopes of satisfying conservatives on the issue. It worked.
The result is a compromise that “fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs,” the senators said in a joint statement this week.
The Respect for Marriage Act would not create the federal right to same-sex marriage that Obergefell does. It is a narrower bill stating that states have to recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in other states. For example, if the bill becomes law and Obergefell is overturned in the future, Texas could opt to not allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the state but it would have to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
The same-sex marriage debate in Washington has been shaped in part by the views of a key block of Republican voters, Evangelical protestants, who overwhelmingly oppose same-sex marriage even as much of the country has warmed to it in recent decades. The senators who negotiated the current bill say that the major hurdle to it having some Republican support, concerns about religious liberties, has now been resolved.