Assuaging concerns from some Republican members who feared that the measure could infringe on religious freedom and paving the way for the Senate to take up the bill this week, a bipartisan group of senators announced on Monday that they had reached an agreement on revised legislation that would enshrine marriage equality into federal law and provide protections for religious liberties.
The five senators who participated in the negotiations said in a joint statement that they had come up with “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.”
Democrats Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are the Senate’s chief negotiators, together with Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio. The Respect for Marriage Act amendment, they said, “has helped garner the wide, bipartisan support needed to turn our commonsense legislation into law,” they said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly filed a petition to schedule a procedural vote to advance the bill, which is scheduled for Wednesday, after the senators made their agreement public.
According to Schumer’s statements on the Senate floor, “No American should ever, ever be discriminated against because of who they love, and enacting this bill would secure much-needed safeguards into federal law.” The New York Democrat referred to the legislation as “essential and highly needed,” adding that passing it would be “as genuine as it gets.”
He remarked, “I hope that at least 10 Republicans will vote with us to protect marriage equality into law soon for the sake of tens of millions of Americans.” “Millions of Americans’ rights and dignity depend on it.”
With the Respect for Marriage Act:
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.
No American should ever be discriminated against because of who they love.https://t.co/D2tPlyVNmc
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 14, 2022
The bipartisan amendment, which was unveiled on Monday, guarantees that nonprofit religious organisations won’t be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of same-sex marriage. It also safeguards the rights to exercise one’s conscience and to exercise one’s religion guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Additionally, it is made explicit that the measure forbids the federal government from recognising polygamy and protects any advantage or status of an entity, such as tax exemptions, grants, contracts, or educational support, as long as it does not result from marriage.
The amendment also, in the words of the bipartisan group, “recognises the importance of marriage, acknowledges that diverse beliefs and the people who hold them are due respect, and affirms that couples, including same-sex and interracial couples, deserve the dignity, stability and ongoing protection of marriage.”
One of Congress’s initial legislative responses to the Supreme Court’s ruling in June terminating the constitutional right to an abortion was the Respect for Marriage Act. Legislators are concerned that previous Supreme Court rulings defending the right to same-sex marriage could be threatened by the conservative court in light of Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion.
The legislation ensures that lawful marriages are recognised regardless of “sex, race, nationality, or national origin” and repeals the Defense of Marriage Act from the Clinton administration. With support from 47 Republicans, the proposal easily passed the Democratically-controlled House in July. Several Republican senators have since shown support for the proposal, increasing the likelihood that it would cross the 60-vote threshold necessary to advance legislation in the Senate.
However, some Republicans expressed fear that the House plan may violate religious liberty, which prompted the bipartisan group of senators to start negotiating an amendment to allay those worries.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed in September to delay a vote until after the midterm elections, which were held last week, in an effort to increase support for the bill that includes provisions for religious liberty and pave the way for its adoption by the Senate. The House will need to take up the marriage equality bill once more if the Senate approves it with the amendment.