47 GOP senators vote to let anti-LGBTQ people discriminate if they claim religious reason
The Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to attach a ‘religious liberty’ amendment to a bipartisan bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriages.
Forty-seven Senate Republicans voted on Tuesday in support of an amendment to a bipartisan bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriages that would have undermined existing civil rights laws protecting LGBTQ families. Their efforts failed to attain the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass.
The 48-49 vote was mostly along party lines. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, voted in support of the amendment. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins voted against it.
The vote came as the Senate rushed to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill aimed at preventing the U.S. Supreme Court from eroding constitutional rights.
The bill gained urgency after the increasingly conservative Supreme Court majority struck down its nearly 50-year-old abortion rights precedent in its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion in that case, expressly called on his colleagues to reconsider and overturn other rulings, including those guaranteeing same-sex marriage equality.
As written, the bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which unconstitutionally permitted the federal government and states to refuse to recognize same-sex unions, and bar states from discriminating against a marriage between two people from another state “on the basis of the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of those individuals.” It also includes language to make clear that religious organizations won’t be forced to participate in weddings they don’t recognize.
Republicans led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee objected to the bill and attempted to attach an amendment to add special rights for anti-LGBTQ people and groups.
Lee’s proposed amendment would have prevented the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” against someone because of their religious beliefs about marriage.
The amendment would have rendered the federal government powerless to enforce civil rights protections for married same-sex couples as long as the person or organization discriminating claimed that it was doing so based on “a sincerely held religious belief.”
“These amendments are a poison pill meant to weaken the bill and make it harder to pass,” David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign, told the American Independent Foundation on Tuesday. “The Respect for Marriage Act is meant to affirm existing protections for same-sex couples, and the Lee amendment would fundamentally change current law by allowing for discrimination against legally married same-sex couples.”
Lee claimed in a Fox News op-ed on Monday that his amendment is needed to achieve “the civility necessary for a pluralistic society to thrive” and protect religious groups that hold “traditional views of marriage.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a lead supporter of the Respect for Marriage Act, told the Washington Blade on Nov. 17 that the bill doesn’t hurt religious groups.
The amendment’s language would have prohibited the elected governments of Washington, D.C., and federal territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam from enforcing their own civil rights protections for marriage.
Democratic Washington, D.C., Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton blasted those provisions in a Nov. 17 press release.
“This amendment is an attack on all LGBTQ+ Americans, but it also uniquely attacks D.C.’s LGBTQ+ residents,” she said. “Senator Mike Lee, who professes to support local control of local affairs, regularly tries to use Congress’ undemocratic power over D.C. to interfere in D.C.’s local affairs. I have defeated all his prior attempts to interfere in D.C.’s local affairs, and I will defeat this one, too.”
After the Senate passes the bill, the Democratic House will have to approve it by the end of the year to send it for signature to President Joe Biden, who strongly supports it. An earlier version of the bill passed by a 267-157 House vote in July.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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