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Senate Democrats Hope to Pass Bill Codifying Marriage Equality Before Midterms

Democrats are confident that there are at least 10 GOP votes to break a filibuster and pass the bill into law.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during the Senate Democrats press conference in the Capitol in Washington on June 7, 2022.

Democratic lawmakers in Congress may make one last push in the coming weeks to pass a number of bills — including one protecting the right to same-sex marriage — in the run-up to the midterm elections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised a vote on marriage equality last month, but told reporters he wouldn’t provide them with a “timetable” for when the vote would take place.

While some have criticized the impending vote as a means of getting more support for Democrats in the upcoming elections, Schumer’s aides told Politico that the delay is about ensuring that the bill can get passed.

Democrats will need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome a GOP filibuster and codify marriage equality protections that were established in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges. Many believe that decision has been endangered following the Court’s ruling this year to overturn the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade.

In a concurring opinion in the case rescinding abortion rights, Justice Clarence Thomas said that he and his fellow justices should also re-examine other cases that established rights based on privacy protections — including Obergefell. His comments led Democrats to pass a bill on marriage equality in the House earlier this summer. The bill has not yet been voted on in the Senate.

Democrats say they are confident they can muster up 10 GOP votes in the Senate. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), the lead sponsor of the bill who is also the first open lesbian elected to the Senate in U.S. history, plans to meet with GOP colleagues she’s been working with to “compare notes on their outreach efforts to build more support from Senate Republicans.”

At least three Republicans have voiced open support for the bill — Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has also spoken positively about the bill.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” Collins has said about the legislation’s chance of passing.

Yet obstacles still abound. The timeframe to pass the bill before the midterms is shrinking, and Schumer has indicated that his first priority is getting federal judges nominated by President Joe Biden approved in the chamber this week. Other priorities include passing a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, which has the potential to last for weeks if Republicans want it to.

Republicans have also signaled a reluctance to vote on the marriage equality bill at all. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), who previously said he saw “no reason” to oppose the legislation, has disparaged it as being unnecessary and accused Democrats of trying to play politics ahead of the midterms.

Johnson called the bill “another example of Democrats creating a state of fear over an issue in order to further divide Americans for their political benefit.” More recently, he indicated that he wouldn’t support the bill unless it includes a “religious freedom” amendment, which could allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), meanwhile, called the bill a “stupid waste of time” — a comment that Baldwin overheard and confronted him about privately on an elevator.

Polling suggests that a majority of voters do not see the bill as a “waste of time,” however. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted in late July, 58 percent of Americans believe that Congress should pass a bill to protect same-sex marriage rights, while only 32 percent oppose the idea.

The bill also has the support of President Joe Biden, who has indicated he will sign it into law if given the opportunity.

Biden “is a proud champion of the right for people to marry whom they love and is grateful to see bipartisan support for that right,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier this summer. “He believes it is non-negotiable and that the Senate should act swiftly to get this to the president’s desk. He wants to sign this.”

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