RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Congress is close to passing a bill that would provide protections for people in same-sex and interracial marriages, a move backed by both of North Carolina’s Republican senators in a key vote Wednesday. 

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) has been involved in negotiating a bipartisan amendment to the bill that he said would simultaneously provide protections for religious liberty and give certainty to married couples. 

“It is a good step forward for protecting religious freedom. We still have a lot more work to do. But, I believe that this is a sound bill that also addresses a number of questions outstanding with respect to future Supreme Court decisions,” Tillis said in a press conference Thursday. 

The bill, which advanced on a 62-37 vote Wednesday, would require states to recognize legal marriages from other states and would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.  

The amendment Tillis supported also says that non-profit religious organizations are not required to provide any services. 

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, it’s raised concerns that the court could also reverse the ruling from 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage. 

Tillis said he thinks “it’s providing certainty on a court decision that most experts believe will hold. But, why not go ahead and do that if it also provides you with an opportunity to advance religious freedom?” 

Before Tillis was elected to the Senate, he served as Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. In 2012, he supported amending the state constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, which voters approved.  

“A lot’s changed since then,” he said. “Now there are over a million people who have either same-sex marriages or civil unions. What we’ve done with this bill is to make sure they have some certainty.” 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) also voted Wednesday to advance the bill. It’s unclear when a final vote will occur. 

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality and a Democratic candidate for Congress this year, said Thursday she thinks it’s encouraging to see bipartisan support for the bill. 

“The South makes the case for why we need a federal law protecting the freedom to marry the person that you love,” she said. “We live in a time where there’s a lot of volatility around fundamental freedoms and rights. And, we are heartened to see such strong bipartisan support moving this bill closer and closer to law.”  

She’s been with her wife for 18 years and legally married for 14 years. They have three children together. 

“There is an extremist political movement in our country that is fairly systematically trying to undermine and unravel rights that have been very hard-won,” she said. “The passage of this bill would bring some peace of mind.” 

The North Carolina Values Coalition criticized Sens. Tillis and Burr for voting in favor of the bill, calling it an “assault on religious freedom.”  

“This bill is very broad and will compel speech. It will impact religious freedom,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition. “While Sen. Tillis has told the people of North Carolina today that he’s disappointed that the bill didn’t go further, it really is because of Sen. Tillis that the bill even came to the floor.” 

While the bill says there would be no recognition of polygamous marriages, Fitzgerald’s group said the changes to the bill don’t address their concerns. 

In a statement, they write, “The original version passed by the US House in July, was denounced by the NC Values Coalition and national groups in a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Senate advanced an altered version. However, changes to the bill do not address the underlying problems of threats to marriage and religious freedom, and crafty adjustments were made to mask significant consequences. For instance, the substitute bill still allows traditional polygamous relationships where one person is married individually to multiple people.”  

Trump announcement 

Sen. Tillis also weighed in Thursday for the first time since former President Trump launched his campaign earlier this week. 

“We’ve seen a number of people in the Republican Party emerge as leaders that I think that we should take the time to see who will come out, build a message that we think resonates best with the American people,” he said. 

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC 11th), who lost his primary race earlier this year, is the only elected Republican from North Carolina currently in Congress who has endorsed Trump. 

Sen. Tillis said he’ll make an endorsement before the primary in 2024. For now, he said the focus should be on the runoff Senate race in Georgia. 

“We need time to just settle down the field, focus on Georgia, and then we’ll have that discussion after the first of the year,” he said. “We haven’t even had Thanksgiving. The 2024 election is not settled. I think having that debate and trying to figure out, this is not about any one person. This is about winning the White House, in my opinion. And I think President Trump will make his case. We’ll see who else steps up.”