WASHINGTON — Democrats are punting a vote to protect same-sex and interracial marriages until after the November midterm elections, pulling back just days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to put the Senate on the record on the issue “in the coming weeks.”
The request for a delay by senators who have been pushing for the legislation follows Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the lead senator championing the bill, predicting that they would be able to get the 10 Republican votes they need to break a filibuster. But the group struggled in recent days as some Republicans had raised increasing concerns about whether it would protect the rights of religious institutions, business owners or others who oppose same sex marriage.
The decision came after a meeting on Thursday with Schumer.
“Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted commonsense language that respects religious liberty and Americans’ diverse beliefs, while upholding our view that marriage embodies the highest ideals of love, devotion, and family," Baldwin and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Tillis of North Carolina said a statement along with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. "We’ve asked Leader Schumer for additional time and we appreciate he has agreed. We are confident that when our legislation comes to the Senate floor for a vote, we will have the bipartisan support to pass the bill.”
The delay significantly threatens the legislation and could allow interest groups and other lawmakers opposing the bill more time to rally Republicans against it. But supporters hope that the delay will give them time to find more GOP supporters and take off pre-election political pressure.
Amid news of the delay, the White House emphasized again that the administration was leaving the mechanics of the legislation -- such as the timing of a vote -- to the Senate.
“We believe the Senate should find consensus just as the American people have,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.
Baldwin and the other core group of supporters had worked with the GOP senators who had religious liberty concerns. They were planning an amendment to clarify that the legislation did not affect the rights of such private individuals or businesses, which are already enshrined in law. The legislation instead requires the federal government and states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed, along with interracial marriages.
But some Republicans who had wavered on the bill were not yet on board.
Democrats and the small group of Republicans have moved to safeguard same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion. Lawmakers fear the court’s ruling, and a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas, indicate that an earlier high court decision protecting same-sex marriage could come under threat.
“We all want to pass this quickly,” Schumer said last week. “I hope there will be 10 Republicans to support it.”
The Senate push for the historic vote — and the openness by some Republicans to back it in an election year — reflects a large shift on the issue since the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Some 70% of U.S. adults in a Gallup poll released in June 2021 said same-sex unions should be valid under the law.
The bill protecting same-sex marriage cleared the House in a July vote with the support of 47 Republicans – a larger than expected number that gave the measure a boost in the Senate. But as the weeks went on, more Republicans raised the religious liberty issues.
Another proposed tweak to the bill would make clear that a marriage is between two people, an effort to ward off some far-right criticism that the legislation could endorse polygamy.
The legislation would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
It's not clear how many Republicans would support the bill. In addition to Collins, Portman and Tillis, a fourth GOP senator, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has supported same-sex marriage in the past. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who is up for reelection this year, has said he doesn’t see a “reason to oppose it” but has talked on both sides of the issue in recent weeks.
Most Republicans opposing the legislation have said it is simply unnecessary because the court ruling still stands. But others have gone further.
One group that has been opposed, the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, has pushed back on the legislation, with one blog post on its website calling it a “grave” threat.
“In the grander scheme, the Respect for Marriage Act is a way of putting an exclamation mark on the sexual revolution and its ideology,” wrote Ryan Womack, who works for the group.