The United States Senate has voted 61 to 36 to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to protect same-sex and interracial marriage in Federal Law. The bill was supported by all members of the Democratic caucus and 12 Republicans, who backed the bill for a procedural vote earlier this month.
The landmark bill prohibits states from denying “out-of-state marriages based on sex, race, ethnicity or national origin”. It also “repeals and replaces” any federal language that defines marriage as between individuals of the opposite sex.
The bipartisan victory comes in the final weeks of Democratic-controlled Congress. The bill now returns to the House of Representatives, which is scheduled to shift to Republican leadership when the 118th Congress is sworn in on January 3. The House will now need to pass the bill before sending it to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. The House is expected to pass the bill before the end of the year, possibly as soon as next week.
“For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday evening after Senate passage, calling it a “bipartisan achievement.”
The Respect for Marriage Act would not set a national requirement that all states must legalize same-sex marriage, it would require individual states to recognise another state’s legal marriage. It would mandate federal benefits such as Social Security and health care, for same-sex couples.
Congress introduced the legislation following the Supreme court’s reversal of Roe versus Wade earlier this year when Justice Clarence Thomas said that rulings granting the right to same-sex marriage and access to abortion could also come under review.
In a speech minutes before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, praised the bill’s bipartisan support, saying he planned to call his daughter and wife to celebrate.
“For millions of Americans, today is a very good day. An important day. A day that’s been a long time in coming,” Schumer said.
According to a Gallup poll, the support for same-sex marriage in the US hit a record high of 70% in 2021. It was also the first time Gallup recorded a majority of Republicans in favour of same-sex marriage, at a rate of 55%.