North Carolina Republicans helped the Senate pass a bill Tuesday evening that would federally protect same-sex and interracial marriages.
The U.S. Senate is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats and needed 60 votes to get the bill passed. Both Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr helped push the vote past that threshold.
It now must return to the House, which has passed a version of the bill, before going to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Tillis was one of the original, bipartisan co-sponsors on the bill, and Sen. Susan Collins recognized him on the floor for his work.
“I want to thank all the Republicans who have supported this,” Collins said. “I know that it has not been easy but they’ve done the right thing.”
In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark case from the 1970s that protected a person’s right to an abortion. Democrats feared what other decisions the country’s highest court might reexamine, including the 2015 Obergefell ruling that made same-sex marriages legal.
Because of that, Congress proposed the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that codifies into law the right for same-sex and interracial marriages, both of which are legal through Supreme Court decisions.
Tillis made clear over the summer he planned to support the bill when it reached the Senate floor.
“We know that nearly a million Americans are already committed to same sex marriages who simply want long-term certainty,” Tillis said from the Senate floor Nov. 15. “Not only the million who were already committed to same-sex marriage, but the millions of people who attended the ceremonies — their friends and their family.”
Burr remained less clear about his support, but when it came time to end debate on the bill, both Burr and Tillis advanced it.
Both senators received backlash for their votes from socially conservative groups.
In an editorial, state Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican from Union County, called for the North Carolina Republican Party to sanction Tillis for his work on the bill.
Tami Fitzgerald, director of the NC Values Coalition, said in a news release voters are tired of electing representatives to Washington and then being betrayed.
“We need true leaders who stand for truth and their constituents’ values; instead, Senators Tillis and Burr are charting a collision course with their base voters.”
Burr did not run for reelection in 2022 and plans to retire at the end of December. He will be succeeded by Rep. Ted Budd, a more conservative Republican and a member of the Freedom Caucus. Tillis was reelected in 2020 and has four years remaining in his term.
A poll released this fall by Meredith University indicates that supporting same-sex marriage wouldn’t be far off from what the majority of North Carolinians want. The poll found that 56.3% of North Carolinians support same-sex marriage.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a written statement that the Senate mocked marriage by trampling on a individual’s foundational right to religious freedom.
After the bill passed the House 267-157, Tillis worked with two Republicans and two Democrats to create an amendment that would protect religious institutions and prevent polygamy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religious group with historical ties to polygamy that now condemns the practice, has spoke out in favor of the bill, and Tillis thanked the church for working with lawmakers on the amendment.
Under the amendment, religious institutions will not be required to provide any services for same-sex marriage celebrations, and their tax-exempt status and other benefits can not be impeded because of that.
Tillis said the bill and the amendment are good compromises allowing religious institutions to operate free of government interference, while protecting the rights of Americans with differing views or opinions.
“As we went through this bill, we listened to the very serious, sincere concerns of Americans with strongly held religious beliefs who simply wanted to make sure that Congress protects their First Amendment rights, especially the freedom of religion,” Tillis said from the floor. “By casting politics aside, and working hard behind the scenes over the past several months, we managed to strike a balance with this legislation. There will be permanent certainty for same-sex couples, and they can rest easy knowing their families are secure. And there will be robust protections for churches, religious organizations, protections that are more robust and expansive that currently exist in federal law.”
President Joe Biden celebrated after senators took their first steps before Thanksgiving in ensuring the bill moved toward passage.
“Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said in a written statement.
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