Democrats succumb to political reality on same-sex marriage bill
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The Senate Respect for Marriage Act has Progressive argued that efforts to protect same-sex partnerships remain unfinished after concessions were made to Republican calls for increased protections for religious freedom.
The bill, as it stands, would officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and require state recognition of legal same-sex and interracial marriages, but would not overturn the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex partnerships nationwide, or prevented the High Court from eventually overturning the landmark decision.
"It would be great if the bill went ahead, but we don't have the votes for the bill to go ahead," Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Changing America.
"I think this is a hugely important first step and I don't think there are any guarantees that the Supreme Court won't overturn the precedent they recently set with Obergefell, so it's important to defend the rights." same-sex couples around the world to protect land."
The Obergefell ruling prohibited states from enforcing laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriages. Should the Supreme Court overturn the ruling, as in Roe v. Wade and abortion rights were the case, the issue of same-sex marriage would be returned to the states.
The Respect for Marriage Act requires states to recognize same-sex marriages, but does not go as far as Obergefell in requiring states to perform those marriages.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading progressive, called the legislation a positive "first step," but said "we have more work to do" when it comes to upholding equal marriage rights.
However, the possibility of going further in the near future is slim as House Republicans are set to retake the chamber in January.
"I want to see the day when we have 100 votes for no discrimination, not just for those we love but for all activities," Warren said.
Naomi Goldberg, deputy director of the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks state and federal laws affecting the country's LGBTQ community, told Changing America that the legislation is also constrained by the constitution.
The bill "does not require that every state allow same-sex couples to marry -- the federal government cannot constitutionally do that," she said. "What the Respect for Marriage Act would say is that you must recognize valid marriages regardless of sexual orientation, national origin and race."
"What's important," Goldberg added, "is that it doesn't affect current legal or constitutional patterns that exist in most states. They're still in the books.”
Efforts to lift the bans at the state level have met opposition from conservative lawmakers, despite record-high support for marriage equality among American adults. In the Senate, Republicans feared that the protections of religious liberty could be undermined by federal legislation protecting marriage equality.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) forced the upper chamber to postpone a procedural vote on the law until 10 p.m. this month. after failing to gain the necessary support for his amendment to further strengthen religious freedom provisions.
"You shouldn't be able to punish religious beliefs," Lee said ahead of the Nov. 16 Senate vote. "That's all I want. A safeguard stating that the federal government cannot penalize any person or entity based on a belief about marriage based on religious or moral belief. That's not asking too much."
A bipartisan amendment introduced by senators this month seeks to address some of these concerns by reaffirming the freedom of religion and protection of conscience guaranteed in the US Constitution and existing federal law, and clarifying that the Respect for Marriage Act will not allow polygamous marriages to be recognised.
Senators like Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are hoping the added religious protections will persuade Republicans, who are still on the fence, when the measure goes to the final vote this week, though progressive Leaders and advocates argue that the change dehumanizes same-sex couples and reduces their unions to "second-class" marriages.
"We settle for crumbs," tweeted Alejandra Caraballo, a prominent LGBTQ activist and instructor at Harvard Law's Cyberlaw Clinic, after the amended law was published.
Still, senators have argued that they did their best to secure their narrow majority in the Senate.
"This law maximizes the protections we've been able to get with the votes we have," Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Changing America. "We can certainly build on that to try to fully codify constitutional law, but that was an important and necessary step."
"With any other proposal, we wouldn't have gotten 62 votes at this point," he said.
While at least 12 Senate Republicans and 47 House Republicans are likely to overdo the bill, it's notable that more than 75 percent of GOP lawmakers voted overall not for the proposal, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky. ) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
The Senate will complete its work on the Respect for Marriage Act with a two-vote this week before the House of Representatives is expected to ratify it shortly thereafter. President Biden has pledged to put the measure into effect "immediately" once it reaches his desk.
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