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Senate advances bipartisan same-sex marriage bill, kicking off lame-duck agenda

The Senate advanced a bipartisan bill Wednesday to recognize same-sex marriage nationwide and codify some of the legal protections in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling that made such unions a constitutional right.

It kicked off what is expected to be a scramble to advance a host of lingering Democratic priorities while the party still controls the entire legislative branch.

Twelve Republicans joined all 50 Democrats to advance the same-sex marriage measure, after negotiators added an amendment with protections for religious liberties. That was enough to avert a filibuster and should clear its way for final passage.

The bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and require the federal government to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages.

Support for the legislation grew earlier this year after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling.

Justice Clarence Thomas said at the time that previous rulings establishing rights for LGBTQ people and contraception “were demonstrably erroneous decisions,” signaling that they could similarly be on the chopping block by the conservative high court.

The bill would ensure that some protections remain in place even if previous rulings are overturned.

“No one — no one — in a same-sex marriage should have to worry about whether or not their marriage will be invalidated in the future,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “They deserve peace of mind knowing their rights will always be protected under the law. With this bill, we can take a significant and much needed step in that direction.”

The vote marked the first step of congressional Democrats tackling an ambitious list of lame-duck targets.

Before Congress’ pre-election recess, Democrats either punted or left unresolved a series of issues they planned to address this year, including a government spending bill, an annual defense policy bill, permitting reform, election reform, Big Tech antitrust legislation, Ukraine aid, hurricane disaster relief and potentially raising the debt ceiling to avoid negotiating next year with what is likely to be a GOP-controlled House.

Some Republicans have already said they will insist on spending cuts to popular social programs like Medicare and Social Security in exchange for essentially increasing the nation’s debt limit to avoid a default.

“The debt ceiling needs to happen quickly,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said. “We need to take it off the table in terms of a bargaining tool to take us hostage by Republicans who are just absolutely not thinking about the benefit of the country and the world.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said “it would be nice” to have the debt ceiling issue resolved before the end of the year, but added that he doesn’t know if there’s enough bipartisan support for that.

Many House Democrats said they’d be willing to stay in session beyond mid-December to pass as much legislation as possible, though their top priorities outside of must-pass government spending seemed unclear.

“At some point, the clock’s going to run out,” Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.) said. “That’s just a fact. We can’t get around that. And at some points there may not be consensus, but we’ve got to push as much as we can.”

In a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the White House asked for supplemental funding in the next spending bill to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, help recover and rebuild from natural disasters and stay ahead of the coronavirus. Republicans remain opposed to more COVID-19 spending.

The House passed a version of the Respect for Marriage Act in July, with 47 Republicans backing it. Because the Senate version has been modified, the House would need to vote again, but it is expected to pass there easily.

A Pew Research Center survey released this week found that 61% of respondents said legalization of same-sex marriage was either “very good” or “somewhat good” for society.

Separately Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reelected as Republicans’ leader in the chamber, defeating a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.)

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