Senate Punts On Marriage Equality Vote, For Now

By James Arkin | September 15, 2022, 5:39 PM EDT ·

A possible Senate vote on legislation codifying marriage equality was put temporarily on hold on Thursday, with the bipartisan group of negotiators saying they need more time to get the necessary support to overcome a filibuster.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the House earlier this summer, is intended to enshrine the protections of marriage equality into law. Democrats, advocates and some Republicans have pushed for a law on marriage equality since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned the precedent guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion.

The bill would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and codify marriage equality, defining a person as married for federal legal purposes if the marriage is valid in the state where it was entered into and providing legal protections against any efforts to undermine that marriage equality.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the group of Senate negotiators, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said they were confident that they had crafted the legislation in a way that would generate bipartisan support, but added that they needed more time before bringing it up for a vote.

"The Respect for Marriage Act is a simple but important step which provides certainty to millions of Americans in loving marriages," the senators said. "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," the statement continues. "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."

Schumer has criticized Republican senators for not being more supportive of the measure. He said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday morning that every Democrat backs the bill, but they needed 10 Republicans to break a filibuster in the evenly divided, 50-50 chamber.

In a statement later Thursday, Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said the Democratic leader was "extremely disappointed" that there aren't currently enough votes to pass the bill, but that he agreed to put it on hold rather than forcing the issue on the floor.

"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 [Clarence] Thomas has a chance to make good on his threat to overturn Obergefell," Goodman said.

The statement was a reference to Justice Thomas' concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision, in which the conservative justice said the court should also reconsider other precedents, including Obergefell v. Hodges , the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The House of Representatives passed the marriage equality legislation in a bipartisan vote in July, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats in support.

It has been a tougher hill to climb in the Senate, where negotiators have worked to overcome concerns from GOP senators about religious liberty protections. Collins, one of the lead GOP negotiators, told reporters in the Senate on Thursday that she thought they had achieved that goal and expressed confidence about the bill, saying they were in "very good shape."

"This bill is going to pass, and I think we've managed to thread the needle on the religious liberty concerns," Collins said.

--Editing by Steven Edelstone.

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