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Senate to vote on bill that would protect same-sex and interracial marriages

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Supreme Court's decision this summer to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has raised questions about how vulnerable other civil rights laws could be. Today, the Senate is set to vote on legislation that would protect same-sex and interracial marriages. As NPR's Barbara Sprunt reports, it's a top legislative priority for Democrats while they still control both chambers of Congress.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: The Respect for Marriage Act would not force states to issue same-sex marriage licenses, but would require them to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. On the Senate floor on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said passing the legislation would be a big step forward.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: We all know that for all the progress that we've made on same-sex marriage, the rights of all married couples will never truly be safe without the proper protections under federal law. And that's why the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary.

SPRUNT: Opponents to the legislation argue it threatens religious liberty and that a 2015 Supreme Court decision already guarantees constitutional protections for same-sex marriage. Here's Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas on the Senate floor Monday.

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JOHN CORNYN: This idea that we have to pass this legislation in order to preserve what has already been recognized by the Supreme Court as a constitutional right - that this is based on, frankly, a scare tactic.

SPRUNT: He said while the bill raises questions on religious liberty, it, quote, "does not move the needle" on same-sex marriage.

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CORNYN: And there's no reason to believe that this decision is any - in any imminent jeopardy.

SPRUNT: But Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon pushed back on that idea, pointing to the Supreme Court's decision over the summer overturning the constitutional right to an abortion.

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RON WYDEN: Some members of this body have questioned why we need to pass this bill when marriage equality is the law of the land. The answer is pretty straightforward. The Dobbs ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, showed that the Senate cannot take any modern legal precedent for granted.

SPRUNT: Twelve Republican senators have already supported this legislation on procedural hurdles, and a deal was struck Monday to allow votes on amendments from three Republican senators aimed at protecting religious freedom. If the bill passes, it will then go to the House, where it's expected to pass easily, before being sent to President Biden for his signature. Barbara Sprunt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.

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