WASHINGTON (AP) — Considering the prospect of a divided government in the next Congress, Senate Democrats are moving forward with legislation this week to protect same-sex and interracial marriages. It’s a vote “as personal as it gets,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Schumer is holding a test vote on the bill on Wednesday, betting at least 10 Republicans will vote with the 50 Democrats to advance legislation to ensure same-sex and interracial marriages are legally recognized across the country. The bill has gained momentum since the June Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion. An opinion issued at the time by Judge Clarence Thomas suggested that an earlier High Court ruling protecting same-sex marriage could also be at risk.
If the Senate votes to go ahead with the legislation, a final vote could take place as early as this week, or by the end of the month, while Democrats still control the House. Republicans are poised to win a majority in the House and are unlikely to address the issue next year.
“I strongly believe that passing bipartisan marriage protections would be one of the most significant accomplishments of what has already been a very productive Congress,” Schumer said in the Senate. “It will do so much good for so many people who want nothing more than to live their lives without fear of discrimination.”
Congress has taken steps to protect same-sex marriage as support from the general public — and Republicans in particular — has grown sharply in recent years, as Obergefell v. Supreme Court Hodges in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. A recent poll found that more than two-thirds of the public support same-sex unions.
Still, it’s not yet certain that Democrats have the 10 votes they need to overcome a filibuster on Wednesday and ram a bill through the Senate 50-50. So far, at least three Republicans have said they will vote for the legislation and are working with Democrats to pass it: Maine Sen. Susan Collins, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
Most Republicans have remained silent about whether they would support it, but those pushing the bill say they believe the GOP’s 10 votes are there. Democrats have delayed considering the legislation until after the midterm elections, hoping it would relieve political pressure on some Republicans who may be hesitant about the bill.
And a proposed amendment to the legislation, negotiated by supporters to rally more Republicans, would clarify that it does not affect the rights of individuals or businesses – rights already enshrined in law. Another tweak would clarify that a marriage is between two people, an effort to stave off some far-right criticism that the legislation may condone polygamy.
The legislation would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all legal marriages where they were performed. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
Some Republicans say the changes are not enough. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who had hinted he might back it before being re-elected last week, said this week he would not, citing religious freedom concerns.
Still, the growing GOP support for the issue is a stark contrast to even a decade ago, when many Republicans vocally opposed same-sex marriages. The legislation passed the House in a vote in July with the support of 47 Republicans – a larger-than-expected number that gave the measure a boost in the Senate.
On Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the latest conservative-leaning group to back the legislation. In a statement, the Utah-based faith said church doctrine would continue to hold same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments, but would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they did not violate the rights of religious groups. believe as they see fit.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has worked on gay rights issues for nearly four decades, said the new openness of many Republicans on the subject reminds her of “the arc of the LBGTQ movement to start with, in the beginning, when people weren’t out and people knew gay people from myths and stereotypes.
Baldwin says that as more individuals and families became visible, hearts and minds changed.
“And slowly the laws followed,” she said. “It’s history.”
Schumer said the issue was also personal to him.
“Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staff, myself included,” Schumer said. “My daughter and his wife are actually expecting a little baby in February, so it’s very important to a lot of us that this is done.
Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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