A bill to give same-sex marriages federal protection advanced Wednesday (Nov. 16) in the US Senate with rare bipartisan support, as Democrats rushed to preserve such unions while they still control Congress.
A dozen Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in the chamber in clearing a procedural hurdle requiring 60 "yes" votes so the bill on a once deeply divisive issue can move on to the full Senate.
President Joe Biden's Democrats retained control of the Senate by a razor-thin edge in last week's midterm elections but Republicans are expected to win the lower House of Representatives, albeit also by a thin majority.
That heralds a divided legislature and gridlock come January when the new Congress is sworn in.
In the United States, same-sex unions have been guaranteed by the Supreme Court since 2015.
But after the court's historic overturning of a longstanding ruling protecting the right to abortion earlier this year, many progressives fear that same-sex marriage may also be under threat.
In mid-July, the House of Representatives passed a law to protect such unions across the country. All House Democrats and 47 Republicans supported the bill, but nearly 160 Republicans opposed it.
After it clears the Senate—a vote is expected soon but no date has been set—the bill now must go back to the House again for a final vote.
"Love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love," Biden said in a statement in which he vowed to sign the bill once it was passed. "Today's bipartisan vote brings the United States one step closer to protecting that right in law."
The bill passed Wednesday does not require states to legalize same-sex marriage. But it does require them to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
So if the Supreme Court were to overturn the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriages, a state that bans them will still have to recognize such unions carried out in other states.
Polls show a strong majority of Americans back same-sex marriage but it is still contentious. Thirty-seven Republicans voted 'no' on Wednesday and the religious right remains mostly opposed to such unions.
The Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who wields great influence over his caucus, voted against the bill. (AFP)