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WASHINGTON — Legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriages crossed a major Senate hurdle Wednesday, putting Congress on track to take the historic step of ensuring that such unions are enshrined in federal law.
Twelve Republicans voted with all Democrats to move forward on the legislation, meaning a final vote could come as soon as this week, or later this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill ensuring the unions are legally recognized under the law is chance for the Senate to “live up to its highest ideals” and protect marriage equality for all people.
“It will make our country a better, fairer place to live,” Schumer said, noting that his own daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.
Senate Democrats are quickly moving to pass the bill while the party still controls the House. Republicans won the House majority Wednesday and are unlikely to take up the issue next year.
In a statement after the vote, President Joe Biden said that he sign the bill once it is passed.
Iowa’s Republican senators split on the procedural vote. Sen. Joni Ernst supported it, while Sen. Chuck Grassley voted no.
“After hearing directly from Iowans, and closely reviewing the amended language, I believe this bill protects religious freedoms and will simply maintain the status quo in Iowa,” Ernst said in a statement.
Iowa legalized same-sex marriage via an Iowa Supreme Court decision in 2009.
Grassley opposed the bill, saying it would put people’s religious beliefs at risk, and claimed the right to marriage isn’t being threatened. “To be clear, there is no effort in Congress or the courts to overturn” rulings recognizing interracial marriages or same-sex marriages, Grassley said in a statement. “I don’t believe the Supreme Court would reverse these cases even if they were challenged, and I don’t believe it is prudent for politicians to imply otherwise in order to fabricate unnecessary discontent in our nation.
“While failing to adopt this bill would have no practical impact on the status quo, passing it would put people with certain sincere religious beliefs at greater legal risk without also providing sufficient opportunities for them to defend themselves.”
Senators, however, put forward an amendment to the bill to allay concerns that it would threaten religious freedom. The amendment ensures nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law. It also makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage and “shall be construed to deny or alter any benefit, status or right” — such as tax-exemptions, grants, contracts or educational funding — of an entity or person so long as it does not arise from a marriage.
“My vote against this bill is not about opposing the recognition of same-sex or interracial marriages; it’s about defending the religious liberty enshrined in our founding documents,” Grassley said. “This legislation is simply unnecessary.”
Tom Barton of the Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.