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Chuck Schumer: Senate Will Vote on Marriage Equality This Week

Chuck Schumer: Senate Will Vote on Marriage Equality This Week
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The Senate Majority Leader has made a commitment to the Respect for Marriage Act, which would protect marriage equality in federal law.

The U.S. Senate will vote this week on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would write marriage equality into federal law, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday.

Schumer made the announcement after a bipartisan group of senators agreed on an amendment to the bill aimed at allaying concerns about its effects on religious liberty.

The amendment confirms that no nonprofit religious organization would have to provide goods, services, or facilities “for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage,” says a press release from Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office. It also clarifies that the federal government would not have to recognize polygamous marriages.

What the Respect for Marriage Act will do is require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and bar anyone acting under a state law from denying full faith and credit to a marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the spouses.

Additionally, it would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allowed states to refrain from recognizing those performed in other states. DOMA is unenforceable since its invalidation by the U.S. Supreme Court (the first part in 2013, the second in 2015), but it remains part of federal law.

The call to write marriage equality into federal law has come because right-wing forces would love to see the overturning of the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It would take a case getting to the court for this to happen, but conservative justices have said they’d love to have the opportunity. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion when the court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, said Obergefell should be reversed as well.

Because of this, the Senate must take up the Respect for Marriage Act, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives, Schumer said. “No American should ever, ever be discriminated against because of who they love, and passing this bill would secure much-needed safeguards into federal law,” he said on the Senate floor Monday, according to CBS News.

He filed a motion to schedule a procedural vote on advancing the bill, and the vote will likely happen Wednesday, CBS reports.

If the bill passes with the new amendment, the House would have to vote on this version. It passed the original one in July by a vote of 267 to 157, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting it. But it has yet to come to a vote in the Senate.

The Democrats may well lose their majority in the House when all the votes from last Tuesday’s election are in. So that is a motivation for getting the marriage bill passed before the new House and Senate are seated in January. They will retain their majority in the Senate, but there the bill will have to overcome a filibuster, the procedure under which it takes the votes of 60 senators to close debate on a bill and vote on the bill itself.

There has been talk of getting rid of the filibuster, but there has been resistance to that as well. If the filibuster remains in place, Dems have to get at least 10 Republicans to support the Respect for Marriage Act. Three Republicans, Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, were among the group of senators that worked out the amendment, along with Democrats Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The Human Rights Campaign’s interim president, Joni Madison, responded to Monday’s news with an urgent call for passage of the legislation. “We thank Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Baldwin, Collins, [Dianne] Feinstein, Portman, Sinema, and Tillis for their leadership on this vital bipartisan legislation that will officially strike the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act from our nation’s laws and help secure nationwide marriage equality,” she said in a press release. “Because of their leadership spearheading the Respect for Marriage Act, the U.S. Senate has the opportunity to right a historic wrong, creating an inclusive law that reflects the will of the vast majority of Americans — 71 percent of whom support marriage equality — and eases the minds of those who may worry what the impact of the Dobbs decision [which overturned Roe] could mean for their marriages. It’s time to pass the Respect for Marriage Act and we strongly urge all Senators to do so.”

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Trudy Ring