US Respect for Marriage Bill passes key Senate procedural vote, here’s what it does

The Respect for Marriage Bill, a US legislation that aims to secure interracial and same-sex unions by making them legal, cleared a significant hurdle in the US Senate on Wednesday. The Senate voted 62-37 to advance the Bill.

Following the recent 2022 midterm elections, it was determined on the same day that the Republicans had gained hold of the US House of Representatives. The US has two federal legislative bodies: the Senate and the House.

According to the AP, one reason the bill was proposed now was so President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party could guarantee its easy passage and hope some Republicans would back it now that the elections were past.

The Bill passed the House in July this year and during Wednesday’s Senate vote with 12 Republicans voting with all Democrats, including the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

What is the Respect for Marriage Act?

According to the AP, the legislation, which is backed by Democrats Tammy Baldwin and Dianne Feinstein and Republicans Susan Collins, would “repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all legal marriages where they were performed.” The Bill would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognise legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

It was first introduced in the time of President Bill Clinton in 1996 and initially it gave the federal definition of marriage as “(1) ‘marriage’ as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife; and (2) ‘spouse’ as only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.”

The new law will replace and repeal provisions that don’t require states to recognise same-sex marriage from other states or deny full claims to unions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. It will allow the Department of Justice to bring a civil action and establish a private right of action for violation.

Why it has been introduced?

Following Clinton’s decision to permit gay and lesbian people to serve in the military as long as they did not make their sexual orientation known in public, many saw the Clinton-era law as an effort to avoid alienating conservative voters. However, since that time, sentiments in the US about acceptance of the LGBTQ population and homosexual marriage have significantly improved.

The Obergefell v. Hodges momentous Supreme Court decision from 2015 legalised homosexual marriage on a national level. In a similar vein, state laws that prohibit interracial marriages were ruled illegal by the court in 1967’s Loving v. Virginia decision.

Due to inconsistencies resulting from various policies at various levels in both cases, which are examples of how the US political system is slanted towards more power in the hands of the states, lawsuits were brought to court.

Notably, there are over 5,68,000 same-sex couples in the country. With the growing support from GOP leaders, there is a sharp shift from a few decades ago when many Republicans were vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriages.

Recently, a number of conservative Christian organisations have also endorsed this Bill. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of them; it expressed support for the legislation despite continuing to hold the position that same-sex relationships are sinful.

Republicans have claimed that the Bill might violate the freedom of religious organisations that oppose same-sex marriage. Senator Lindsay Graham tweeted, “Nothing in the bill adds new protections for gay marriage, but it does, in my view, create great uncertainty about religious liberty and institutions who oppose gay marriage.”

(With inputs: AP)

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