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Lummis votes to advance same-sex marriage protections

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Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., speaks during a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing on April 5 on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

Wyoming’s Sen. Cynthia Lummis joined 11 Senate Republicans on Wednesday to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, which would protect marriage equality under federal law. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso voted against the motion.

The motion to advance the bill passed with 62-37 vote, surpassing the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a Republican filibuster. Wednesday’s vote was a crucial test to see if there was enough appetite in the Senate for the legislation to potentially make it into law.

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. 

The Respect for Marriage Act was brought forth in response to concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade over the summer cleared a path to chip away at same-sex marriage and other rights. It would create federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, in addition to repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes marriage as being between a man and a woman and holds that states aren’t obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Defense of Marriage Act has remained on the books even though it’s unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Although the Respect for Marriage Act would require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, it doesn’t require states themselves to perform same-sex marriages.

Rep. Liz Cheney votes in favor of same-sex marriage protections

Prior to the vote, only four Senate Republicans — Utah’s Mitt Romney, Ohio’s Rob Portman, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Maine’s Susan Collins — had publicly backed the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act cleared the House in July. In a surprising show of support, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and 46 other House Republicans voted in favor of the legislation.

Cheney’s vote on the legislation is a part of her larger turnaround on the topic of gay rights. She opposed same-sex marriage eight years ago, a stance that put her at odds with her sister Mary, who is married to a woman. But in a September 2021 interview with 60 Minutes, Cheney said she was wrong to oppose same-sex marriage.

“I love my sister very much,” she said in the interview. “I love her family very much, and I was wrong.”

A growing number of Wyomingites back same-sex marriage. Could more of the state's politicians follow suit?

Lummis’ vote to advance the legislation is also a turn from her past record on same-sex marriage.

In 2013, for example, then Rep. Lummis cosponsored the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, meant to block the federal government from punishing a person for acting on their religious belief that only marriages between a man and a woman should be recognized. She also cosponsored the 2015 State Marriage Defense Act, which would give states ways to get around federal recognition of marriage equality.

Daniel Galbreath, director of communications for the LGBTQ rights advocacy organization Wyoming Equality, said in a text to the Star-Tribune that he can’t speak to Lummis’ past decisions on the matter, but that her Wednesday vote shows Lummis “standing up for principles of equality, rule of law, and the Wyoming Constitution.”

Lummis said in a statement Wednesday that her vote to advance the bill was “guided by two things — the Wyoming Constitution and ensuring religious liberties for all citizens and faith-based organizations were protected.”

“Marriage is a deeply personal issue, and I have listened carefully to individuals across Wyoming to hear their perspective on this matter,” Lummis said.

UW students boo Sen. Lummis for comment about "two sexes"

Senate negotiators amended the Respect for Marriage Act to add protections for religious freedom, clarifying that nonprofit religious organizations wouldn’t be required to provide “services, facilities, or goods” for a marriage that’s against the organizations’ beliefs.

In a dramatic turn for an organization that has long held that marriage is between a man and a woman, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came out on Tuesday in support of the legislation and the religious freedom amendment.

“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church’s statement said. “As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”

Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame applauded the LDS church’s support of the legislation.

“As Wyomingites we know that churches and faith institutions must be free of government overreach and freedom means freedom for everybody,” she said in a statement Wednesday morning.

Lummis also emphasized the amendment’s importance in her decision to advance the bill.

“As a Christian and a conservative, ensuring that the religious liberties of people in Wyoming are protected and that no institution would be forced to perform a ceremony that is not in line with their values is absolutely essential,” she said, noting that the bill wouldn’t impact the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations.

“Striking a balance that protects fundamental religious beliefs with individual liberties was the intent of our forefathers in the U.S. Constitution and I believe the Respect for Marriage Act reflects this balance.”

The amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act also specifies that the measure wouldn’t recognize polygamous marriages.

If the measure clears the Senate, the tweaked version will have to go through the House before making it to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

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