Lame Duck Betrayal: Vulnerable, Retiring GOP Senators Helped Democrats Advance ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ After Midterms

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Alongside Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) outside the U.S. Capitol on November 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats called …
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) delayed a vote on the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” until after the midterm elections to give the gay marriage bill the highest probability of passing — with the help of squishy Republicans.

It is a tactical move that paid off on Wednesday when 12 Republicans joined with Democrats to advance an updated version of the legislation 62-37, which includes a religious liberty clause that faith advocates say is pretty much useless. Out of those 12 Republicans, several are retiring in the new year and likely have no motivation to hide their abandonment of conservative values, including Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Richard Burr (R-NC, who voted to impeach former President Trump), and Rob Portman (R-OH).

A few were/are also facing reelection and kept their position quiet. Mitch McConnell-backed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who has not yet secured her reelection, voted to advance the bill, along with Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), who won his reelection campaign.

A few of the GOP “yea” votes also came from some of the lawmakers responsible for the reportedly toothless religious liberty clause entitled “No Impact on Religious Liberty and Conscience”— an effort which involved a bipartisan group of five senators, Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

One very notable “yea” vote was from failed presidential candidate Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). He voted to advance the bill following a bill endorsement from the Mormon Church, despite previously stating that he believes marriage is between “one man and one woman.”

Americans of faith received little preemptive assistance from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who won reelection as Senate GOP leader on the same day as the vote. While McConnell voted against the legislation, he made no effort to stand against the bill before the vote, stating over the summer that he would not reveal his position until vote time.

The GOP also did not receive input from Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (R) was not present and did not vote because his wife recently had a seizure and he stayed home with her, Politico reported.

The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) was introduced following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, due to Democrats’ unfounded concerns that the Supreme Court could use the Dobbs decision to overrule the Court’s Obergefell gay marriage decisionThe measure passed the House in July with the help of 47 Republicans. With the amendment agreed upon, the bill will go back to the House before going to President Joe Biden. The White House has expressed support for the measure.

RFMA would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and would require the federal government to recognize any marriage that was “valid in the place where entered into.” The bill would also require every state to recognize every same-sex marriage that “is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into.”

As a report from Slate noted, the bill “does not go as far as Obergefell. In that decision, the Supreme Court directed every state to license same-sex marriages—that is, to issue a marriage certificate to same-sex couples. The RFMA does not codify this component of Obergefell.” According to the report:

So the RFMA does not force Texas to issue a marriage certificate to a same-sex couple. But it does force Texas to recognize a marriage certificate issued to a same-sex couple by New Mexico. In a post-Obergefell world, a same-sex couple in Texas could drive to New Mexico, obtain a certificate, and force Texas to respect their marriage like any other.

The bill does have a “private right of action” clause, which would allow “any person who is harmed by a violation of subsection (b)…[to] bring a civil action in the appropriate district court of the United States against the person who violated such a subsection for declaratory and injunctive relief.” The law would also allow an attorney general to bring civil action against any person who violates the law.


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