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U.S. Senate passes bill to protect same-sex, interracial marriage

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The U.S. Senate passes protections for same-sex and interracial marriage in a landmark bipartisan vote for the Respect for Marriage Act. File photo by Pat Benic/UPI
The U.S. Senate passes protections for same-sex and interracial marriage in a landmark bipartisan vote for the Respect for Marriage Act. File photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- In a landmark bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that protects the right to same-sex and interracial marriage.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which had already passed in the U.S. House, passed in the Senate on Tuesday night by a vote of 61-36. The bill received unanimous support from Democrats, plus 12 Republicans who also backed the bill in a procedural vote earlier this month.

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"With today's bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love," President Joe Biden said in a statement responding to the bill's passage Tuesday.

Lawmakers began voting around 3:45 p.m. on three separate amendments proposed by Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

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The amendments called for additional protections for religious freedoms after some Republicans expressed concern that other changes to the bill did not go far enough. The bill passed without Lee's amendment, which would have prevented the government from retaliating against religious individuals and institutions for their religious beliefs regarding marriage.

"This is a discouraging development in our country's storied history of protecting the free exercise of religion," Lee tweeted after the vote. "While I'm disappointed that my amendment was not included, I remain committed to preserving the religious liberties enshrined in our Constitution for all Americans."

The final bill, which did include a provision to ensure polygamous marriage remains illegal in the United States, repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples.

The measure now goes back to the U.S. House for another vote. If approved, the Respect for Marriage Act would then head to Biden's desk where the president is expected to sign the measure into law before Democrats lose control of the House in January.

Biden called the Senate's passage of same-sex and interracial marriage protections a "bipartisan achievement."

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"For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled," Biden said in a statement Tuesday evening.

While the bill does not make same-sex and interracial marriage legal in every state, it does force individual states to recognize another state's legal marriage.

"Because of our work together, the rights of tens of millions of Americans will be strengthened under federal law. That's an accomplishment we should all be proud of," said Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who also tweeted a photo as he called his daughter and her wife about the bill's passing.

"The bill we are passing today will ensure their rights won't be trampled upon simply because they are in a same-sex marriage."

While many Republicans did not support the bill, 12 GOP lawmakers helped form the coalition of bipartisan support that pushed it through.

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"For the sake of our nation today and its survival, we do well by taking this step," said Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., as she called for more tolerance during what she described as "turbulent times for our nation."

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