Republicans remain silent as Senate pushes for same-sex marriage vote

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The Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would entrench the right to same-sex and interracial marriage in federal law, is only four small pages long. Yet in the week since the House passed the measure on a bipartisan vote and Democratic leaders indicated they plan to put it through the Senate, few Republican senators have found the time to read it. — or so they said on Tuesday.

“I haven’t read it,” said Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).

“We’re still looking,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

“I’m not going to comment on how I’m going to vote until I see the bill – if it gets a vote,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

The reality is that senators have little trouble understanding what the bill does: it repeals the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and requires states to give “full faith and credit” to any marriage between two people, regardless of “the gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin of such persons” – reflecting the action the Supreme Court took in the 2015 Oberfell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriages nationwide.

The complicated part is the politics: despite the fact that 7 out of 10 Americans endorse gay marriage, the issue remains tense for Republicans. They still see the religious right as a key part of their electoral coalition, and they fear being pressured by Democrats into pointing out what some of them see as a purely speculative threat to same-sex marriage rights across the board. national when Republicans would much rather speak. on rising inflation and a slowing economy.

The House on July 19 approved a bill that would federally protect same-sex marriages, but it’s unclear whether the legislation can pass the Senate. (Video: Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

House passes protection for same-sex, interracial marriages with bipartisan support

“Most of our members are going to say, why are we having this vote right now when nobody’s talking about it?” said Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), the GOP leader in Senate No. 2. “It looks like the Democrats are using it as a distraction.”

But in the eyes of Democrats, enshrining same-sex marriage in federal law has become much more than a political stunt with the Supreme Court’s decision last month striking down the constitutional right to abortion that has been in place since Roe vs. Wade decision 49 years ago. Like interracial and same-sex marriage rights, the federal abortion right was grounded in the constitutional theory of substantive due process that recognizes “unenumerated” rights such as the right to privacy.

While the court’s review opinion last month held that the abortion ruling should not “cast doubt on precedents that do not relate to abortion”, a concurring opinion by Judge Clarence Thomas did precisely that. this – calling on the high court to ‘reconsider all of this’. substantial due process precedents of the Court”, including Oberefell and Griswold v. Connecticutwhich protected access to contraception, and Lawrence v. Texaswho struck down state sodomy laws.

“We are in the post-deer world, where marriage equality, contraceptive freedoms — everything is on the table as far as the Supreme Court is concerned,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “And this issue in particular is on the blacklist of the right-wing majority. So as inconceivable as overthrowing deer was just a year ago, this one must be considered endangered.

A handful of Senate Republicans have already indicated they agree with the effort, including Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Thom Tillis (NC). A fifth Republican, Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), said last week he had “no reason to oppose” the measure, while also accusing Democrats of “creating a state of fear over a question to further divide Americans for their political gain.”

That’s five more Republicans than Democrats’ sustained efforts earlier this year to codify deer before the Supreme Court decision. But the Democrats will need at least 10 people to join them in the filibuster.

Amid GOP support, Senate Democrats see hope for same-sex marriage vote

Dozens of Republicans are expected to oppose the measure if it comes to a vote. Among those who said Tuesday they would not hesitate to vote “no” was Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who said in a statement that the bill was “an attempt by the Democrats to score political points by manufacturing hysteria and panic, in addition to intensifying their ongoing attacks on the Court.

But many simply do not take a stand. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leads the wait-and-see parade, telling reporters Tuesday that he would continue to keep his powder dry until Senate Majority Leader Charles E Schumer (DN.Y.) schedules a vote. Asked about his position on the bill, McConnell said, “I will not comment on it until the matter is raised in the Senate.”

That posture has been comfortable for many Republicans this week: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said she “hears both sides on the issue” and remains undecided. “I’ll see if it comes up and then I’ll make a decision,” Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.) said, while Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) declined to state his position. , noting, “I don’t know if we’re voting on this or not.”

Behind the scenes, these senators are solicited by some of their colleagues, including Collins, Portman and Tillis, as well as the two Democratic senators who are openly members of the LGBTQ community, Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona). ).

“We’re just trying to work through it,” Tillis said. “At the end of the day, the members have to make their own decisions, but in my opinion, this is very different from the bill that Senator Schumer introduced to codify Roe vs. Wade. … This is a sincere codification of current law.

Republicans, meanwhile, are under pressure from elements of their political coalition who are urging them to strongly oppose the bill. A letter sent Tuesday to McConnell, signed by leaders of the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defending Freedom and dozens of other social conservative organizations and institutions, said the measure would “endanger believers and would have the effect of “silencing those who hold the long-held belief that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to human flourishing.

“It has little to do with protecting rights; its text betrays an intent to stigmatize and take away rights — especially those belonging to people of faith,” said the letter, which was first reported by Politics.

The religious right’s biggest ally in its quest to stop the bill moving forward could be an impending legislative pile-up in the Senate, as well as a series of health-related absences that could prevent the Senate from bringing together the 60 votes needed to defeat a buccaneer. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is recovering from hip replacement surgery, while Murkowski and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days.

“We’re working very hard to get 10 Republican senators,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “Between that and the illnesses, we’re not there yet.” He did not list the same-sex marriage bill among his top priorities for action before the Senate begins its summer recess next week, instead listing bills aimed at boosting investment in research. and development, reduce prescription drug prices and improve veterans’ health care.

Baldwin said Tuesday that the bill was “getting more support every day” but absences were a concern.

“We will when we have the votes and the time,” she said, adding, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a lot more at the end. [than those who are] make a public commitment at this stage.

But Democrats’ insistence on waiting for enough GOP support to hold a vote amid Republicans’ reluctance to publicly pass the legislation has created a Catch-22 for now. “My guess is that it definitely won’t happen until they’re convinced they have 10 Republicans,” said Thune, who has opposed same-sex marriage in the past but hasn’t taken a position on the law on respect for marriage.

“I think a number of them are hoping it will go away,” Blumenthal said, recounting his own conversations with Republicans. “But when things get bumpy…I think if you put it down today it would pass. What I hear is, ‘You know, our base is tough on this, but how can we challenge history?’ ”

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