Schumer: Senate to vote on marriage equality bill this week

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan on January 28.
Matt Tracy

While the dust continues to settle on the 2022 midterm election season, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the upper chamber will begin voting on a marriage equality bill on November 16.

“I just took steps on the Senate floor to set up a first procedural vote for Wednesday on legislation to codify marriage equality into law,” Schumer wrote on Twitter November 14. “No American should ever be discriminated against because of who they love.”

Out lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who has played a leading role in the effort to draw the 10 GOP votes necessary to overcome the filibuster, issued a joint statement with four other Senators from both parties outlining their intention to “moving forward” with the bill, which is known as the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill would also formally repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which was gutted by the courts but remained on the books.

Joining Baldwin in that effort are Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, as well as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The two primary purposes of the bill, the senators said, are to require the federal government to recognize any marriage that is valid in the state where it was performed and to guarantee that marriages receive full faith and credit, no matter the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the couple.

Notably, the bill would not require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if state law bars marriage equality, though that would only come into play if Obergefell falls. As of now, states must issue marriage licenses.

The lawmakers outlined details of an amendment to the legislation. Firstly, they say it will protect religious liberty and conscience protections — including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — and bars the bill from being used to repeal those protections. Secondly, it stipulates that non-profit religious groups will not be forced to provide services, facilities, or goods to celebrate a marriage. Thirdly, the amendment guarantees that the law will not be used to “deny or alter” any benefit, right, or status of an otherwise eligible person or entity, including grants, contracts, educational funding, loans, and more, as long as the specific benefit does not come as a result of a marriage.

The senators say the legislation also clarifies that it will not require the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.

“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,” the lawmakers said in the joint statement. “Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality. We look forward to this legislation coming to the floor and are confident that this amendment has helped earn the broad, bipartisan support needed to pass our commonsense legislation into law.”

In July, the House of Representatives easily passed the bill by a 267-157 margin, drawing 47 Republicans votes in support of the measure. Lawmakers have faced greater pressure to codify marriage rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, and Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have criticized the Obergefell ruling on multiple occasions.

The lawmakers are inching towards a vote on the bill roughly two months after Schumer announced that the Senate would hold a vote on marriage equality following the midterms.