Senate clears way for legalizing same-sex marriage
The Senate has voted to advance a bill that would protect same-sex and interracial marriages under federal law, setting the legislation on a path to final passage. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—By a bipartisan 62-37 vote, including 12 Republicans, the evenly split U.S. Senate cleared the way for legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the U.S., heading off threats against it from the Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court majority.

The Nov. 16 vote for cloture—to prevent a Republican filibuster—will be followed by actual passage of the measure, HR8404, although Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., inserted some changes in the House-passed version in order to pick up those key Republicans.

Chief among them: Language exempting religious organizations which oppose same-sex marriage from parts of the measure’s scope.

Nevertheless, passage is yet another marker in the significant shift in fewer than 20 years in U.S. attitudes towards same-sex couples and towards the LGBTQ community in general.

“Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Democratic President Biden declared after the vote. Today’s bipartisan vote brings the United States one step closer to protecting that right in law. The Respect for Marriage Act will ensure that LGBTQI+ couples and interracial couples are respected and protected equally under federal law, and provide more certainty to these families since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs” earlier this year. The fear has been that the right-wing Supreme Court would kill same sex marriage rights the way it killed national abortion rights under Roe, rights that were determined by a Court ruling rather than a national law.

That ruling not only saw the five-Justice majority not only delete the constitutional right to abortion, but prompted the most-senior of them and their guiding light, Clarence Thomas, to declare the Court should “revisit” i.e. kill, the rights to same-sex marriage, to contraception and LGBTQ rights in general.

Instead, the vote shows “Republicans and Democrats can work together to secure the fundamental right of Americans to marry the person they love,” the president said.

“No one–no one–in a same-sex marriage should have to worry about whether or not their marriage will be invalidated in the future. They deserve peace of mind knowing their rights will always be protected under the law,” Schumer told his colleagues. The Respect for Marriage Act “will protect the rights of all Americans, regardless of who they choose to marry.”

Schumer called the measure “a simple, narrowly tailored, but exceedingly important piece of legislation that will do so much good for so many Americans. It will make our country a better, fairer place to live.”

Organized labor has long been on record backing same-sex marriage and all forms of same-sex equality, including a ban on discrimination on the job. Pride@Work, the federation’s affiliate for LGBTQ people, has issued no recent statement, but its twitter feed includes a February 2021 statement from the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: “Members of the LGBTQ community deserve to be free from discrimination in all forms.”

Moved one step closer

“Today the Senate moved one step closer to passing Marriage Equality,” tweeted Travis Simon, director of legislative affairs for Service Employees Local 500. “This is incredibly personal to countless members of SEIU, SEIU Local 500 AND their families. #RespectForMarriage But we aren’t done yet. The Senate still must vote on final passage. CALL YOUR SENATOR TODAY!”

“In the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, many Americans are fearful of further losing critical protections.  The Senate can address these fears and ensure respect for important rights by passing the Respect for Marriage Act,” the Teachers (AFT) posted on its website.

“Just your periodic reminder that LGBTQIA+ rights are workers’ rights. Our union is a powerful tool in fighting for equality in and out of the workplace,” the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union tweeted. Teachers President Randi Weingarten  is gay, as are SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.

“I want to thank all of the advocates who have fought for marriage equality for decades,” lead Senate sponsor Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., told her colleagues. “We are on the cusp of a historic vote in the Senate because of everybody’s efforts…The movements for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, educational equity, affordable housing, economic justice are all inextricably linked.”

She also said the measure is absolutely needed given the threat from the High Court.

“Let’s face it. Regardless of your position on abortion, the highest court of the land overturned a precedent of nearly 50 years. There is no questioning that. And the same legal arguments the Supreme Court rested upon to reverse Roe v. Wade could just as easily be applied to reverse numerous other cases related to families, related to intimate relations, to contraception, and marriage,” Baldwin explained.

Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is a far cry from 2004, when Republican President George W. Bush rode to a narrow re-election win on the strength of riding “social issue” referendums in key swing states such as Ohio. Several of those votes outlawed same-sex marriage.

The next year, lawmakers passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which leaned against same-sex couples.

But seven years ago, the court majority ruled same sex marriage is a constitutional right, in Obergefell v Hodges. For the record, Schumer introduced supportive letters for HR8404 from religious groups from across the political spectrum. HR8404 repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, too.

Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) backed the bill, but only after the compromises to satisfy the religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage were inserted, Elder Jack Gerard wrote on behalf of its leaders.

Those compromises include a flat ban on polygamy, and declares “no religious organization will be required to provide any services for the celebration of a same-sex marriage,” co-sponsoring Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said. “Simply put, that means that no church or religious organization will be required to perform, recognize, or celebrate same-sex marriages.” They also won’t have their tax-exempt status threatened if they refuse, Tillis added.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.