Marriage Equality Is On the Senate Floor This Week & It Affects Everyone
The preservation of marriage equality on the federal level is up for review this week. On November 16, 2022, the Senate voted to proceed with a full vote on proposed legislation to enshrine marriage equality, one of the first agenda items raised by Democrats following the midterm elections. The Respect for Marriage Act, also known as RFMA, is a bipartisan bill proposed by Congress in July to repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act).
The vote by senators this week is critical for several reasons. DOMA, which was passed in 1996 under President Clinton, allowed states to deny federal rights to same-sex couples. It reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the Constitution of any State, nor State or Federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
It thereby implied same-sex couples can be denied certain marital rights by the state. Examples include inheritance rights, health insurance policies, and even hospital visitation rights. The Respect for Marriage Act would, among other things, repeal DOMA, and make both same-sex and interracial marriages "valid in the place where entered into."
According to Gallup's most recent polling held in May 2022, about 7 in 10 Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage–a stark contrast from 70% of respondents opposing same-sex marriage in 1996 when DOMA was signed. Here, The Knot breaks down the exact timeline of events this week as the bill hits the floor and what to anticipate next.
The Introduction of RFMA
Timeline: July 2022
The bill (H.R. 8404, S. 4556) was first proposed after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court in June–a somber reminder that not all rights are protected. When RFMA was first cleared by the House, 47 Republicans supported its legislation. Presuming it returns to the House, the bill will require similar support.
Timeline: Through Midterm Elections 2022
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Dem., New York) agreed to hold the vote until early November once midterm elections were held. It was, again, one of the first agenda items presented after midterms.
The Senate Sets the Date
Timeline: November 14, 2022
On Monday, Senator Schumer moved up the procedural vote after five bipartisan senators debuted an amendment to the bill protecting the autonomy of religious groups. The amendment protects the liberties of nonprofit religious groups and organizations.
The Procedural Vote
Timeline: November 16, 2022
The Senate moved forward with a procedural vote, oftentimes known as a test vote prior to legislation moving to debate, followed by a final vote. Sixty votes were required for the bill to proceed to the Senate's upper chamber with 10 Republican votes needed. The outcome told a new story: 62 to 37 votes were cast in support of legislation to move forward to a full vote.
The Senate Debates the Bill
Timeline: Through November 18, 2022
Following the procedural vote, the Senate will debate the bill.
The Senate Casts Its Final Vote
Timeline: Likely November 18, 2022
Once perspectives have been presented and debated, the Senate will call for a final vote. According to the Human Rights Commission, the final vote will most likely take place on November 18, 2022.
The House Casts Its Final Vote
Timeline: Through Early December
Upon clearing the Senate, the vote will then need to clear the House before it proceeds to the White House.
President Biden Signs Legislation
Timeline: Likely December
If approved by both houses of Congress, the Respect for Marriage Act will be finalized once it lands on the desk of the President and is signed into legislation. For many couples and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, interracial couples and others, it would be a moment of celebration and relief.
Timeline: Into the Future
Advocates can submit a form to their senators and representatives, urging them to vote in favor of RFMA. Considering the progress made in the last decade (think: the landmark ruling of Obergefell v. Hobbs in 2015 for all states to recognize same-sex unions), this vote may directly impact you or a loved one.
The Respect for Marriage Act will protect the rights of all couples–LGBTQ+ and interracial partners included–propelling the country into a brighter future based on equality and inclusion.