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U.S. Senate poised to vote on protection for same-sex marriage

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Participants in San Francisco's gay pride parade in June hold signs referring to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs. Wade and fears that gay rights might be targeted next. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/9cd969c0a3e5317834d7f7d67f800d7d/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Participants in San Francisco's gay pride parade in June hold signs referring to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs. Wade and fears that gay rights might be targeted next. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote Wednesday on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify same-sex marriage rights.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted Monday that he has taken steps to set up the vote to advance the bill, saying, "No American should ever be discriminated against because of who they love."

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The move came after a bipartisan group of senators announced they had crafted an amendment to the legislation that protects religious liberty rights and confirms nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide any services or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.

In addition, the amendment clarifies the bill does not require or authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriages.

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The bill also would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.

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The House approved the bill in July in a 267-157 vote, with all Democrats and 47 Republicans voting in favor. A Senate vote was delayed until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

The bill, which also protects interracial marriages, would return to the House for another vote if it passes with the amendment.

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The senators who wrote the amendment -- Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. -- say in a press release issued Monday they are confident the "common-sense legislation" will pass.

"The Respect for Marriage Act is a needed step to provide millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages the certainty that they will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages," they said. "Through bipartisan collaboration, we've crafted common-sense 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 bill is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June overturning the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the majority, wrote in a concurrence that the court should reconsider some of its previous rulings, include decisions allowing same-sex marriage and access to contraception.

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The new legislation requires the federal government to recognize marriages between two individuals that are valid in the state where they are entered into and guarantees that valid marriages will be recognized, regardless of the couple's sex, race, ethnicity or national origin. The bill would not require a state to issue a marriage license contrary to state law.

Religious liberty advocates and faith groups are split on the Respect for Marriage Act.

In an email to UPI before the amendment was announced, Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee said the public policy organization "stands for the undisputed foundation of family as the union of a man and woman in marriage who together raise children, and the importance of mothers and fathers."

The act "is an attack on millions of Americans, many whom are people of faith, who affirm Biblical morality when it comes to marriage and sexuality," the group said.

CWALAC also is concerned about federal recognition of a state's definition of marriage, saying that could include open marriages or unions involving minors and adults.

Cathi Herrod, a lawyer and president of the Center for Arizona Policy, pointed out that no hearings were held on the bill and questioned whether the House members who voted in favor of it understood what its impact would be.

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"There would be litigation potentially over how the provisions interact with the First Amendment guarantees," Herrod said. "The lack of hearings means there hasn't been a thorough vetting of the legislation."

She added the Respect for Marriage Act potentially forces business owners and nonprofits to choose between their faith and their livelihood "and that's not the American way."

The Center for Arizona Policy and CWALAC joined dozens of other groups in a July letter asking Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, GOP minority leader, to urge his colleagues to "thoroughly abandon this harmful and unnecessary legislation." The letter alleges the bill would endanger people of faith.

"We are seeing this play out more and more against those who decline to openly embrace extreme views regarding marriage and human sexuality. This legislation will only hasten and intensify hostility against them," the letter says.

In a Sept. 16 letter to senators, 40 faith-based organizations urged passage of the bill.

"The Respect for Marriage Act is a simple way to provide legal stability for all married couples and their families," the letter says. "Within our communities, we approach matters of marriage, family and identity differently. This bill recognizes this diversity of belief while ensuring that same-sex and interracial couples are treated with equal respect within the public sphere."

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The letter also says public support of the right of same-sex couples has reached 71% and support for interracial marriage stands at 94%.

"The freedom to marry who one loves is a matter of human dignity," the letter says. "Yet the ability for two people to join together in shared devotion is at risk as long as it remains dependent on the current Supreme Court. Out of our shared religious obligations to care for our neighbors and to pursue justice, we urge you to pass the Respect for Marriage Act."

Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, told UPI that marriage equality is at risk in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's abortion ruling.

The Reform Judaism movement for decades has worked for greater inclusion of the members of the LGBTQ community, which includes ordination as clergy and celebrations of life-cycle events, she said. The Respect for Marriage Act is part of that effort.

"We want to make sure that individuals who are married to a spouse of the same sex are not discriminated against while also respecting the fact that no clergy would ever be required to sanctify a marriage that violates their own faith traditions," Weinstein said.

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