Hope for a quick vote on the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. Senate this week has faded, but U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said over the weekend that she has 10 Republican senators willing to vote for the measure and believes that vote could take place in September.
The U.S. House passed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19, by a vote of 267 to 157, just one day after Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced it. Even though only three Republicans voted for the Equality Act in the House last year, and only two Republicans voted for an LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act in June, 47 Republicans voted for the Respect for Marriage Act.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, points to polling that shows 55 percent of Republicans support marriage equality. A poll in June indicated that 72 percent of registered voters opposed the idea of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a decision that enabled same-sex couples to marry.
But popular support for legislation has not translated into bipartisan votes on other LGBTQ legislation. Nearly that same percentage in another poll said they would favor laws protecting LGBTQ people against discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations, yet only 3 conservative Republicans voted for the Equality Act.
Nor are all 47 in tight mid-term elections this year. Only 17 had single digit margins of victory in 2020. Of the 27 who were scored by the Human Rights Campaign’s rating of their votes on LGBTQ issues, 20 scored between zero and 11.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin told National Public Radio that she thinks same-sex marriage is more acceptable now because “it’s now part of most people’s everyday reality to know somebody who has married in order to provide legal protections for their family.” Until recently, she hoped the Senate would vote before August 8, when Congress takes its summer recess. And she has emphasized that the Respect for Marriage Act has become critical because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade has “implicated” other decisions based on similar grounds. Among those cases is Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 opinion striking down state bans on marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
Baldwin, the U.S. Senate’s first openly LGBTQ senator, is leading the charge to get the Senate to vote on the Respect for Marriage bill. With the Senate split 50-50 between Democratic votes and Republican votes, she needs all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to agree to break the inevitable Republican filibuster that would ensue with any attempt to bring the Respect for Marriage to the floor.
Baldwin told a Wisconsin media outlet July 29 that she has five Republicans publicly committed: Senators Susan Collins (of Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin).
“Five additional members have indicated they are leaning in support,” said Baldwin, “but I think because of how crowded the [Senate] calendar is for next week, which is our last week before the August recess, and in light of the fact that we can’t have any absences — we need everybody there, and we have a few members with COVID — this is probably going to be a vote that occurs, what I would hope would be early September.”
Meanwhile, it’s not clear that some recalcitrant Democrats — like Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are on board. Senator Collins told The Hill newspaper that Manchin’s recent agreements to go along with Democratic bills on climate change might cause the Respect for Marriage bill to lose Republican votes.
But openly bisexual Senator Kyrsten Sinema is supporting the bill.
What Respect for Marriage Act says
Baldwin introduced the Respect for Marriage Act (S. 29) in the Senate on July 18, along with U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The House bill, H.R. 8404, was introduced the same day and is slightly longer. Both bills have language to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages. That law was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 via U.S. v. Windsor.
Both bills also include language to makes it clear that a marriage validly obtained in one state shall be recognized by the federal government and by other states.
Neither bill says that all states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Charles Moran, president of the national Log Cabin Republican group, said he thinks the House bill got 47 Republican votes because “the GOP is calling the Democrats bluff on this issue and that’s why we saw 47 yes votes.”
“The antics of [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and Nadler, in dropping this bill with less than 24 hours notice before a full floor vote, no committee hearings, etc. rankled a lot of GOP members … and some voted no as a protest to that style of governance…not because of their opposition to gay marriage,” said Moran. I believe that if I had an additional 24 hours to whip votes, we could have gotten 70+ yes votes. If I had 48 hours? Probably 100 yes votes.’
But Moran said he also thinks the 47 Republican votes are a reflection of the huge differences between the Equality Act and the Respect for Marriage Act.
“The Respect for Marriage Act was a clean bill. The Equality Act is messy, [and] tramples over a lot of things like religious freedom that GOP’ers won’t go along with,” said Moran.
Some ultra conservatives affiliated with religious groups say they believe the Respect for Marriage bill is an attack on them. In a July 26 letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, representatives of Alliance Defending Freedom and 79 other anti-LGBT and conservative religious groups write that the Respect for Marriage bill is an attempt to silence people who believe marriage can be only one man and one woman. The bill, the letter states, “does much to endanger people of faith,” and anyone who supports the bill, it states, is “aiding and abetting the persecution of people of faith.”