Bipartisan legislation working its way through Congress to enshrine into law the right to same-sex marriage will have to wait until after lawmakers return from Thanksgiving.
The Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify into statutory law the Supreme Court’s ruling that marriage is the union of two persons but has religious liberty exemptions, is expected to pass the Senate the week of Nov. 28 after Republicans prevented an effort Thursday to fast-track the bill before senators jet off for the holiday break.
A procedural vote earlier this week saw 12 Republican senators side with all Democrats on a 62-37 vote.
The House, which passed similar legislation with bipartisan support this summer, will vote on it once it clears the Senate.
“Let me be clear: passing the Respect for Marriage Act is not a matter of if, but only of when,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “I thank my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who have led this bill, and I have zero doubt that respect for marriage will soon be the law of the land.”
Although previously garnering approval from a dozen GOP senators, most Republicans have reservations that it does not go far enough to protect religious organizations from litigation.
The bill requires that the federal government recognize same-sex marriages with carveouts for nonprofit religious groups, such as churches, that do not want to provide services.
The exemption does not extend to private companies, such as wedding photographers or bakers, who remain exposed to lawsuits for refusing to provide goods or services related to same-sex marriages.
“Nothing in the bill adds new protections for gay marriage, but it does, in my view, create great uncertainty about religious liberty and institutions who oppose gay marriage,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
The dozen Republicans who voted for the procedural move earlier this week were Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and Todd Young of Indiana.
Democrats said that action on gay marriage was necessary in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down in June the decision that had made abortion a federal right 50 years ago.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the gay-marriage case should also be reconsidered.
While the Senate version of the legislation is expected to easily pass the House with just a simple majority, some Democrats argued that it does not go far enough.
“I think we take what protections we can get, but I do not think that we tout this as more than what it is,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, told The Washington Times.
“It will make attacks on marriage equality that much more difficult, but we need to be very real about what this is doing, and the reason for that is because there is not Republican support for true, straight, fully codified marriage equality in the United States of America,” she said.
The legislation also requires states to recognize interracial marriages, codifying another Supreme Court decision that some liberals now think is jeopardy.
It specifies that the federal government does not recognize polygamous marriages.
Congress has teed up a busy post-Thanksgiving agenda for itself, including the task of avoiding a government shutdown.
Lawmakers will have roughly three weeks before they leave town for Christmas and the session ends on Jan. 3. A stopgap spending measure runs through Dec. 16, forcing Congress to either pass another temporary funding bill or the annual budget.
A potential showdown is brewing as Republicans push to delay approving a full budget until the new Congress when they will control the purse strings in the House.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, South Dakota Republican, predicted another stopgap spending measure will be needed, acknowledging that would result in a partisan standoff over the budget come next Congress.
“There hasn’t been a lot of focus on this just yet because we haven’t gotten topline [numbers] from the Democrats, so it’s very hard for the Appropriations Committees to get about their work,” he said. “That does create some challenges down the road we would have to deal with next year.”