Metro Weekly

U.S. Senate Likely to Delay Gay-Marriage Vote Until September

Delay, and anger over a Democratic spending bill, could push Republican senators to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act.

US Capitol building – Photo: vgm8383, via Flickr.

The U.S. Senate is likely to delay a vote on codifying same-sex nuptials into law until September, due to Democrats’ decision to push forward with a $433 billion climate change, drug pricing, and tax bill that they have prioritized instead.

According to Reuters, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), one of only two LGBTQ senators in the chamber, said she now expects the bill to be brought up after the August recess, which stretches from Aug. 8 to Sept. 5.

In recent weeks, Baldwin has been whipping votes to try and find 10 or more Republicans to overcome a potential filibuster of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed legally in all states and recognized as valid by both the state and federal governments. 

Unfortunately, the postponement of an up-or-down vote until after the August recess gives opponents of same-sex marriage more than a month to apply political pressure to Republicans who may be on the fence, potentially chipping away at the Respect for Marriage Act’s support.

Additionally, some Republican senators may feel blindsided by the surprise deal cut between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — who has thwarted much of the Biden White House’s domestic agenda for the past 18 months — and may retaliate by refusing to support the same-sex marriage bill. Schumer has announced his intention to pass the spending bill via budget reconciliation, which would prevent the Republicans from filibustering the measure.

While the bill’s supporters say they plan to use the August recess to consider adjusting some of the Respect for Marriage Act’s language to be more palatable to Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) warned that the timing of the Manchin-Schumer spending bill may destroy what little trust exists between the two parties.

“I just think the timing could not have been worse and it came totally out of the blue,” Collins told HuffPost after the Manchin-Schumer compromise bill was announced.

“After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPs bill [a bill to increase U.S. semiconductor chip production], it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are underway,” Collins said. 

LGBTQ advocates and their Democratic allies in Congress began pushing for the Respect for Marriage Act in earnest last month, following a recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case granting a federal right to obtain an abortion. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested revisiting the court’s decision in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide by striking down existing state bans on the practice.

While Republicans, as a party, have historically opposed same-sex marriage, last month, 47 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would preempt any future Supreme Court decision overturning the Obergefell decision. 

The larger-than-expected number of House Republicans who voted for the bill gave LGBTQ advocates some hope that there might be enough Senate Republicans amenable to voting for cloture, thereby allowing an up-or-down vote on the Respect for Marriage Act.

Thus far, five Senate Republicans — Collins, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Ron Johnson (Wis.) — have either expressed outright support for the bill or have said they will not block a vote on the measure.

Baldwin recently told PBS Wisconsin that five additional Republicans have indicated they are leaning towards supporting the bill, although she and Collins will continue to whip votes for the measure. If those individuals were to vote in favor of cloture, there would be enough votes to shut down any threat of a filibuster, meaning the bill would likely pass the Senate.

However, if Republicans would indeed refuse to vote on the Respect for Marriage Act due to anger over the Manchin-Schumer bill, the bill will be blocked, and the legality of some same-sex marriages in states with marriage bans still on the books will depend on the whims of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority and whether they feel like reversing past precedent. 

Collins’ suggestion that Republicans might retaliate on same-sex marriage over the spending bill sparked outrage on social media, reports the Maine Beacon.

“Let’s be clear,” Charlotte Clymer, an activist and former press secretary for rapid response at the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted. “Susan Collins is attempting to hold hostage a vote that would protect marriage equality because Manchin isn’t going the way she wants on an unrelated bill. Her support for basic human rights apparently hinges on an unrelated process.”

“These bills aren’t related,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “This is Susan Collins being Susan Collins. An embarrassing coward.”

Last year, Collins withdrew her support for the Equality Act, an LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill she had previously sponsored in past congressional sessions, after the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her Democratic opponent in the 2020 Senate race.

Collins’ press secretary, Annie Clark, pushed back against criticism of the senator on social media.

“Senator Collins is the lead Republican sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act. She clearly supports the bill and would vote yes on it today,” Clark tweeted. “Senator Collins is working to build support for the bill. She wants it to succeed. But bipartisan cooperation on important issues is obviously more difficult with partisan reconciliation dominating the Senate. So we might have to wait a little bit before we can get it done.”

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