What a Difference 10 Years Makes: The Senate Votes to Protect Same-Sex Marriage

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In 2012, Mitt Romney ran for president advocating the position that marriage was between one man and one woman. Ten years later, Romney, now a Utah senator, voted in favor of protecting same-sex marriage on the federal level, a sign of how the political landscape has shifted within the past decade.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted along bipartisan lines for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify protections for both same-sex marriage and interracial marriage into federal law, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats. The bill will now head back to the House, where it’s expected to be quickly passed, and then land on President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The push for Congress to protect marriage rights was sparked by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June that overturned the federal right to abortion. In his own separate opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas raised the possibility of revisiting other long-standing legal precedents, including decisions concerning birth control and the right to same-sex marriage, which the Court established in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges.

Almost immediately, lawmakers on Capitol Hill got to work on the legislation, which would officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act passed under President Bill Clinton. The House passed the first iteration of the bill in July, receiving 47 votes of support from Republicans. In the Senate, there was concern about having enough votes for passage. Then, a bipartisan group of senators managed to agree on new language that included protections for religious liberties, clearing the way for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to set up a vote on the revised bill.

Such action would have been unthinkable just two presidents ago. In 2008, Barack Obama stated that he supported civil unions and was not in favor of same-sex marriage, a change from his position from when he ran for Illinois’s state senate in the 1990s. But once elected, his administration oversaw significant legislation, including the signing of a measure that expanded the definition of hate crimes to include bias against sexual orientation and gender identity and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010. During a 2012 appearance on Meet the Press, then–Vice President Biden appeared to get out in front of the president and expressed support for gay marriage publicly, saying that the fundamental question at hand was “Who do you love?”

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” he said during the interview.

Days later, Obama also declared in an interview that he supported same-sex marriage after previously indicating that his position on the issue was “evolving.”

The Senate Votes to Protect Same-Sex Marriage