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Same-sex marriage protections clear key Senate hurdle, signaling GOP support for passage

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to move this week to codify federal protections for same-sex marriage amid fears the Supreme Court could undo them after overturning Roe.

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Wednesday to open debate on a bill that would codify federal protections for same-sex marriage, signaling that the legislation has sufficient Republican support to pass.

Lawmakers advanced the legislation in a 62-37 vote days after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to proceed on an updated version of the measure released by a bipartisan group of senators.

A dozen Republicans voted with Democrats to advance the legislation: Sens. Roy Blunt, of Missouri; Richard Burr, of North Carolina; Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia; Joni Ernst, of Iowa; Cynthia Lummis, of Wyoming; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska; Rob Portman, of Ohio; Dan Sullivan, of Alaska; Mitt Romney, of Utah; Thom Tillis, of North Carolina; and Todd Young, of Indiana.

Blunt, Burr and Portman are retiring from Congress at the end of this year.

The bipartisan group that crafted the bill, led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., signaled this week that the bill would have the 10 GOP votes needed to pass in the upper chamber during the lame-duck session.

Democrats need 10 Republicans to support the bill in order for it to overcome the 60-vote procedural hurdle before a final floor vote can take place.

Senate Democrats want to pass the legislation before the new Congress convenes in January when Republicans are expected to take control of the House by a narrow margin. NBC News has not yet called which party will control the chamber, with the results of several races still outstanding.

Key senators involved in the negotiations previously delayed a vote on the legislation until after the midterm elections to give Republicans more time to review an amendment aimed at attracting more GOP votes to overcome a filibuster.

In a statement, the bipartisan group said the amendment was crafted to “confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”

The House passed a version of the bill in July, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting for the legislation. The lower chamber passed the bill, titled the Respect for Marriage Act, after Democratic leaders expressed concern that the Supreme Court could follow its June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade with a ruling rescinding the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The House will need to take up the Senate’s version of the bill before sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

"Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love. Today’s bipartisan vote brings the United States one step closer to protecting that right in law," Biden said in a statement Wednesday after lawmakers advanced the mesure.

The legislation would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, enshrine legal same-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law, and add legal protections for married couples of the same sex.

Same-sex marriage remains the law of the land under the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. But Democrats cited Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe in which he called on the now-more-conservative court to reverse the ruling as well as another landmark decision legalizing contraception.