Arkansas senators vote against advancing a measure to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages

U.S. Sens. John Boozman (left) and Tom Cotton, both R-Ark., are shown in Washington in these 2022 file photos. (Left, AP/J. Scott Applewhite; right, AP/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON -- Arkansas' U.S. senators said Wednesday they oppose legislation guaranteeing federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages as the Senate prepares to pass the measure as early as today.

Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton were among the 37 Republicans who voted against advancing the Respect for Marriage Act on Wednesday. Twelve Republicans joined Senate Democrats in the 62-37 vote to end debate.

The legislation states the federal government must recognize marriages between two individuals regardless of their sex, race or ethnicity. A bipartisan Senate coalition released an amendment Monday stating nonprofit religious organizations -- such as churches, schools and ministries -- would not be required to provide services "for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage."

The House of Representatives passed a measure in July codifying the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Arkansas' four House members opposed the legislation.

The Senate and House actions follow the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision to overturn the federal right to abortion services. While justices in the majority opinion stressed the ruling does not impact other judicial decisions, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested a review of "all of this Court's substantive due process precedents" -- including the Obergefell v. Hodges case involving same-sex marriage -- in his concurring opinion.

On Wednesday, Boozman confirmed his position to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette while walking to the Senate chamber to vote.

"This is an attempt by Democrats to score political points by manufacturing a threat to marriage that the court acknowledges is unfounded while diverting attention away from their failed agenda that has made it harder for families to afford everyday essentials," the Rogers Republican later said a statement.

Cotton, of Dardanelle, released a statement criticizing the Senate's consideration of the measure as Congress enters the final weeks of its session.

"Rather than focus on family law, which is outside of Congress's core constitutional duties, we should focus on the Democrats' runaway spending and the border crisis, which are part of our core constitutional responsibility," he said.

According to the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute -- a research center that studies LGBTQ issues and public policy -- an estimated 76,000 Arkansans are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., described the state as a "high-priority to achieve basic equality" in a 2021 report.

"What's challenging to me is that just a few years ago, we had settled law in places that are no longer settled," Judson Scanlon, a recent Arkansas of Representatives candidate for North Little Rock, said following the vote, referencing the U.S. Supreme Court's abortion decision.

Scanlon, who is transgender and nonbinary, added the high court's ruling threatens LGBTQ people's ability to live their lives.

"It seems to me that this is not how we should move forward," they stated. "I'm exhausted at this stage."

Once the Senate passes the bill, it will go to the House, which must approve the new language before President Joe Biden considers the matter. Biden, in a statement following the Senate's vote, called on Congress to send the final bill to his desk.