Bipartisan legislation to codify same-sex marriage under federal law passed the Senate on Tuesday with the help of a dozen Republicans, capping off months of negotiations between both parties over how to address religious liberty concerns.
The bill, named the Respect for Marriage Act, narrowly cleared the chamber 61-36, one more than the 60 votes required to break a filibuster.
The landmark measure now heads to the Democratic-led House, where it’s expected to pass next week before heading to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, whose daughter is married to a woman and is about to have a child, lauded its passage.
“I think not just about them and the millions of Americans it’ll impact, but about my future grandchild,” the New York Democrat told reporters. “That child will now grow up in a more accepting, inclusive and loving world, a world that will honor their mothers’ marriage and give it the dignity it deserves.”
Three amendments offered by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah to strengthen the religious liberty and freedom exemptions in the bill were voted down.
They included provisions to prevent government agencies from targeting those who oppose same-sex marriage, such as the IRS revoking organizations’ tax-exempt status, the Education Department instituting honor codes, or private individuals being denied business licenses.
Most Republicans feared that the carve-out already included in the legislation for nonprofit religious groups that don’t want to provide services for same-sex marriages, such as churches, would fail to offer protection against others’ litigation.
“My amendment simply prohibits the federal government from discriminating against schools, businesses and organizations based on their religious beliefs about same-sex marriage,” Mr. Lee said. “That is all it does.”
Mr. Lee’s amendment needed 60 votes to pass while Mr. Lankford’s and Mr. Rubio’s required a simple majority. Final passage needed 60 votes under an agreement made to fast-track legislative proceedings.
Some of the GOP senators who voted for the legislation also supported the amendments but argued that their inclusion would have tanked the bill with Democrats.
While the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges made marrying a person of one’s own sex a federal constitutional right, Democrats feared that the conservative-leaning high court may overturn the ruling as it did Roe v. Wade, which made abortion a right nearly 50 years ago.
The 12 Republicans who supported the same-sex marriage bill along with 49 Democrats included Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is campaigning in Georgia for his Dec. 6 runoff race against Republican Herschel Walker, did not vote.
The bill also includes protections for interracial marriages and affirms that polygamous marriages are not recognized by the federal government.