Warnock breaks from campaigning to cast vote on gay marriage protection

Credit: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock took a quick break from the runoff campaign trail to travel to the Capitol and support a measure protecting same-sex and interracial marriages.

Every Senate Democrat, including Georgia’s Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and 12 Republicans voted in favor of advancing the bill, which would create a federal law protecting the rights of consenting adults to wed. That was two more votes than they needed to overcome the filibuster threshold and allow the bill to move toward becoming law.

Warnock missed confirmation votes earlier in the week because he was in Georgia campaigning ahead of his Dec. 6 matchup against Republican Herschel Walker. He said the marriage equality legislation was worth a pause.

“I am a strong believer that there is no such thing as equal rights for some; it’s equal rights for all,” he said. “Equal protection under the law is the covenant we have with one another as American people, and to the degree that any one of us is not covered by that we’re all in peril.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June overturning federal protections for abortion came with a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas in which he encouraged the court to also revisit precedent establishing the right to same-sex marriage and access to contraceptives.

That created new urgency among Democrats and some Republicans to pass new laws specifically outlining those protections. Although abortion rights legislation does not have the Republican votes needed to avoid a filibuster, a bipartisan group of lawmakers came together for marriage rights.

The House passed a version of the bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, in July. It received bipartisan support, but Georgia’s delegation split strictly along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The Senate is amending that bill, which means the legislation will have to be sent back to the House before the current session of Congress ends in December.

A second procedural vote was expected Thursday in the Senate, with final passage in that chamber likely after the Thanksgiving break.

Ossoff said he was glad the Senate was willing to move forward on protecting marriage rights.

“This is a fundamental question of human freedom,” he said. “Are we free to choose our spouse, to choose for ourselves with whom we build our lives and build a family? And that freedom is what’s at stake here. I’m glad we got this done today.”