WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to advance a bill protecting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, amid concerns that a more conservative Supreme Court could overturn a 2015 decision that made it legal nationwide.
The bill garnered the 60 votes required to limit debate before a final vote on its passage. This would serve as a legal check against any future action by the Supreme Court by requiring the federal government to recognize any marriages that were legal in the state where they were performed.
It won’t stop states from banning same-sex or interracial marriage if the Supreme Court allows them to do so.
All 50 Democratic and 12 Republican senators voted to advance the bill in the 100-member Senate. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in July, with the support of 47 Republicans and all of the chamber’s Democrats.
The bill will have to jump through several more Senate procedural hoops before returning to the House of Representatives for final approval and then to the President for his signature.
When the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections in June, Justice Clarence Thomas raised concerns when he wrote in his concurring opinion that the court should consider overturning other precedents protecting individual liberties, including a 2015 ruling allowing gay marriage to be legalized.
There are approximately 568,000 same-sex married couples in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau.
“I’ve heard from constituents in the House who are concerned and worried about the proposal that their right to marry who they love will be taken away,” Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay woman elected to the Senate and a negotiator of the bill, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Speaking before Wednesday’s vote, Republican Sen. Tom Tillis, another key negotiator, called the bill “a good compromise … based on mutual respect for our fellow Americans.”
President Joe Biden applauded the vote, saying it “sent a strong message that Republicans and Democrats can work together to secure the fundamental right of Americans to marry the person they love.”
Although same-sex marriage has gone from a political hot potato to an established norm over the past decade, the bill’s negotiators had to thread a needle between protecting a right most Americans now take for granted and allaying concerns from Republican senators about religious freedoms.
In a sign of how far the country has come on the issue, the Mormon Church – once a staunch opponent of legalizing same-sex marriage – supports the bill. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, voted in favor on Wednesday.
The legislation is the result of months of negotiations by Baldwin and Tillis, as well as Democrat Kirsten Sinema and Republican Senators Susan Collins and Rob Portman.
Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington; Edited by Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller
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