The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill to codify same-sex marriage equality this week after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a new amendment addressing Republican concerns.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed for cloture Monday afternoon on the Respect for Marriage Act, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a move which would bring the bill to the Senate floor. He said the Senate could vote on the bill as early as Wednesday.
Schumer’s actions followed a joint statement Monday from a bipartisan group of five senators leading negotiations on an amendment to the bill. The group, which includes Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), was “confident” their amendment would garner enough bipartisan support to pass.
“Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted 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,” the group said.
Baldwin's office did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
The amendment addresses previous concerns among Republicans that the Respect for Marriage Act would infringe on religious freedoms or legalize polygamy, according to the joint statement.
It explicitly states churches and other religious nonprofits may withhold “services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage” without facing lawsuits or losing their tax-exempt status.
Democrats’ move on the Respect For Marriage Act comes amid a “lame-duck” policy blitz, according to Reuters. With Republicans likely to take control of the House of Representatives on Jan. 3, Democrats are moving to enshrine same-sex marriage rights, clarify the certification process for presidential elections and raise the national debt ceiling.
Same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed equal protection for marriage without regard for sex in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Marriage equality found renewed uncertainty this June after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas questioned Obergefell v. Hodges in his concurring opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court case that overturned federal abortion rights previously guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.
Democrats quickly moved to codify same-sex marriage rights into law as a protection against future court rulings. The Respect for Marriage Act passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support in July by a vote of 267-157, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats in approval.
Schumer originally planned to bring the bill for a Senate vote in late September. However, Schumer delayed the vote until after midterm elections following Republican concerns that the bill’s timing was a political ploy for election votes.
The Respect for Marriage Act needs support from at least 10 Republican senators due to the Senate’s filibuster rules, which require 60 senators to agree for a vote on most legislation.
Just three Republicans — Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis — have publicly supported the bill. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) previously signaled he would support the bill in July but reversed his position in late August.
Baldwin told reporters Monday that she believes enough senators will support the bill to overcome the filibuster, according to Axios.
If the bill passes the Senate with amendments later this week, it would require another vote of approval from the House before advancing to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @tk_kutz.