Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined at left by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., speaks to reporters following Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Getting enough U.S. senators from both parties to agree on anything is tough these days. On an issue that is politically controversial, it may seem impossible.

That’s why passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is pretty remarkable, and why some people are pointing to this legislation as a model for bipartisanship in a divided Congress.

After passing the Senate in late November, the act was passed by the House last week and President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign the bill into law on Tuesday.

Building support for the act didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen easily, despite the fact that public support for LGBTQ rights and marriage has grown fairly quickly. A bill to protect marriage rights became more important after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, upending a long-standing constitutional right to abortion care. In a decision supporting the overturning of Roe, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas suggested some other rights that had been upheld by the Supreme Court, such as the right to marry someone of the same gender, should also be reconsidered. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex marriage rights were protected by the Constitution.

The Respect for Marriage Act aims to protect same-sex and interracial marriages regardless of what a future court may decide.

The main champion of the bill was Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. She is the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate. She’s also someone who mostly shuns the limelight.

Baldwin teamed up with Republican Sen. Susan Collins to build support for the legislation. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Tillis of North Carolina were also early supporters of the legislation, which needed the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster.

“I would characterize Susan Collins’ work as indispensable to this process,” Baldwin said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News editorial board. As a senior Republican, Collins has a lot of “leverage and influence” with her caucus, Baldwin added. On this legislation, Collins was also instrumental in circling back to ensure that “nothing fell apart,” she said.

The group then focused on securing more Republican support for the bill, some of which came in the form of more quiet support from lawmakers who privately said they’d vote for the legislation but didn’t want to be publicly acknowledged for supporting it until a vote was taken. These aren’t exactly profiles in courage, but they did help get this important bill passed.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 61-39 last month, with 12 Republicans voting for it. Two members of the party’s Senate leadership — Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Roy Blunt of Missouri — voted for the bill. Three of the 12 Republicans who supported the act — Portman, Blunt and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr — are retiring, which may have made it easier for them to vote yes.

In the face of opposition from the majority of Senate Republicans, making sure the bill’s support did not “fall apart” was an important part of getting the job done.

Thirty-nine Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and several men who hope to run for president — voted against this legislation, which doesn’t change much in terms of current policy.

These Republicans are out of step with the majority of Americans, and Republicans. More than 70 percent of Americans support marriage equality, including 55 percent of Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Although congressional support of marriage equality was overdue, the Respect for Marriage Act remains important legislation. This bill, and the process that got it across the finish line, shows that it is possible to build a coalition to pass legislation that is important to the American people.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...