Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and the rest of the bipartisan group of senators working on the passage of a same-sex marriage bill announced today that they’re going to table their efforts until after the election. Baldwin in a statement noted that she’s confident the group will get enough Republicans on board post-midterms for the bill to pass the Senate.
“The Respect for Marriage Act is a simple but important step which provides certainty to millions of Americans in loving marriages,” the groups said in a statement today. “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. 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 group, led by Baldwin, includes Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).
For one thing, Portman won’t be in the Senate much longer, meaning the group will have to work quickly after the election in November to get the bill passed with the support of 10 Republicans needed to overcome the filibuster. While the bill has already passed in the House, waiting until after the midterms still could be a risky gamble.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been quietly prodding the group to bring the bill to the floor before the midterms — either in the form of an independent bill or by tucking the measure into a must-pass spending bill that the Senate must vote on before the government runs out of funding at the end of the month — as a way to force Republicans to plant their flags on the issue before November. If the measure failed, a pre-election vote would’ve been potentially beneficial for Democrats in demonstrating for conservative voters who support marriage equality where Republicans stand. But whether the continuing resolution plan would benefit Democrats was always a toss-up. It could have forced Republicans to support the legislation to avoid a pre-midterms government shutdown, but muddled any clear takeaway about where Republicans stand. Or it could’ve blown up in Democrats faces, leaving them with a failed marriage vote and a potential shutdown just before Election Day. Today Schumer’s office vowed to bring the bill to the floor before the end of the year.
“Leader Schumer is extremely disappointed that there aren’t 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to vote yes on marriage equality legislation at this time,” his office said in a statement. “Because Leader Schumer’s main objective is to pass this important legislation, he will adhere to the bipartisan group of Senators’ request to delay floor action, and he is 100 percent committed to holding a vote on the legislation this year before Justice Thomas has a chance to make good on his threat to overturn Obergefell.”
But if the dynamics of Congress shift post-midterms — i.e. if Republicans take the Senate — it’ll surely impact how willing GOPers may be to pass bipartisan legislation, especially if the party also secures the House. The bill currently has three Republican supporters, but there may be other conservatives behind the scenes who would step up to support the measure if the bill were divorced from the pressure of going on the record ahead of midterms. Collins certainly thinks so.
“I think we’re in very good shape,” she said today. “This bill is going to pass. I think we’ve managed to thread the needle on the religious liberty concerns. We’ve taken a lot of input.”
The “religious liberty” concerns have been floated by a few Republican senators in recent weeks, resurrecting a Prop 8-era talking point pushed by the Christian right at the time that centers on the idea that federal protections for same-sex marriage threaten the freedom of white conservative Christians (like business owners or pastors) who would like to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Both Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) have brought it up in recent weeks. For Johnson, it’s an effort to toe a complicated line as he fights for his toughest reelection yet. For Cruz, well, he does these things. But, as I pointed out last week, this language is also a sign that the Christian right is back on the offensive, warning politicians in their pocket that this is the movement’s new Roe.
Regardless of what gamesmanship is happening here, Baldwin et al. maintained today they’re confident they’ll have the GOP votes they need after the election. But idle bills are the devil’s workshop. As they say.
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