Political Notes: U.S. Senate delays marriage equality vote post midterms

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday September 15, 2022
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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said Thursday that the Senate won't vote on the Respect for Marriage Act until after the November midterm elections.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said Thursday that the Senate won't vote on the Respect for Marriage Act until after the November midterm elections.

U.S. senators have punted voting to ensure same-sex couples can marry until after the midterm elections in November. The decision blunts the ability of Democrats and special interest groups from using the issue as an attack against conservative Republican Senators up for reelection this year.

It had been expected that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) would hold a vote on what is known as the Respect for Marriage Act in the coming weeks. Earlier this month Schumer responded to questioning from the media about the fate of the bill that "a vote will happen."

As the Washington Blade reported, Schumer promised that "a vote on marriage equality will happen on the Senate floor in the coming weeks and I hope there will be 10 Republicans to support it. Yes."

But finding the required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate continues to prove elusive. Even the announcement by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) that she and the bills' other backers had hashed out compromise language on adding religious freedom safeguards to the legislation didn't move enough holdouts to throw their support behind it.

It led lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), the bill's chief sponsor, to announce September 15 that any vote on the bill would be pushed back to mid-November at the earliest.

"I'm still very confident that they bill will pass but we will be taking the bill up later, after the election. We will be putting out a joint statement," said Baldwin after a Democratic caucus lunch, as Politico and other outlets reported.

The decision sparked disappointment from LGBTQ advocates, who have spent the summer lobbying senators to back the bill and have marshaled support from hundreds of corporations and business leaders for the federal legislation. The Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, expressed its frustration about the vote delay in a statement shortly after it was announced.

"The Respect for Marriage Act is an incredibly necessary, popular, and bipartisan bill — and the lack of 10 Republican yes votes right now is extremely disappointing," stated interim HRC President Joni Madison. "Marriage equality — for both LGBTQ+ and interracial couples — is not and should not be a partisan issue, and to treat it as such is an insult to the millions of families who are impacted."

LGBTQ leaders have increased their calls for passing the Respect for Marriage Act following the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June that repealed a federal right to abortion. In his own concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the nation's high court should use its reasoning in the case to also reexamine its decisions in two previous cases that allowed same-sex couples to marry.

One of those was Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 opinion striking down state bans on marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Two years earlier, in U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court had struck as being unconstitutional a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that had barred recognition of same-sex marriages.

"The Respect for Marriage Act must be brought to a vote at the earliest possible moment — in the aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson, it is clear there's a timely, urgent need to declare that the days of debate around marriage equality are over," stated Madison. "But our fight is not over. When the Senate returns, they will have a lot of unfinished business to attend to — including both the Respect for Marriage Act and the Equality Act — to ensure that everyone's rights are protected. And with the midterm elections on the horizon, Equality Voters — LGBTQ+ voters and our allies — will make our voices heard."

Even without supporters of the marriage bill mustering up the 10 GOP votes they needed to ensure its passage in the Senate, holding the vote would have forced the Senate's 100 members to take a public stand on the issue. Doing so prior to the November 8 election was seen as bolstering Democrats' electoral push to maintain control of the Senate and possibly of the House.

The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act in July on a bipartisan vote. It attracted support from 47 Republicans, including five GOP congressmembers seeking reelection this year in California in purple districts. Among them was Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona), who previously had voted against same-sex marriage.

He is facing a strong challenge this fall from Democrat Will Rollins, a gay former federal prosecutor, in the state's new 41st Congressional District. It now includes the LGBTQ retirement and tourist mecca of Palm Springs.

Asked last week about the congressional legislative effort to protect marriage equality, Rollins told the Bay Area Reporter that he was hopeful of seeing it pass out of the Senate. He added that he wasn't concerned about the vote occurring before the midterms.

"I think it will be a great victory for our rights and a great moment in our country's history if that happens. We should take them regardless of the political consequences; I want to say that first and foremost," said Rollins, who was in the Bay Area last week as a featured candidate at a Marin fundraiser hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

With such matters of import, Rollins told the B.A.R. that, "You don't want to play games with it. If it happens, great! I hope it does happen as quickly as possible. I don't trust this Supreme Court to protect our rights."

The federal marriage act includes language to make it clear that a marriage validly obtained in one state shall be recognized by the federal government and by other states. It does not say that all states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

According to HRC, the legislation would codify federal marriage equality by guaranteeing the federal rights, benefits and obligations of marriages in the federal code; repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act; and affirm that public acts, records and proceedings should be recognized by all states.

Polling show support for marriage equality

Recent polling by Gallup, found that 71% of Americans support marriage for same-sex couples, including 55% of Republicans. (Support stands at 83% among Democrats and 73% among independents, per the polling firm's latest numbers.)

Based on polls that HRC recently conducted, 64% of likely voters living in battleground states support marriage equality. They include Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Colorado and Maine.

Data from 2019 released by the U.S. Census Bureau, found about 58% (568,000) of couples in the nation's 980,000 same-sex households were married and about 42% were unmarried partners.

Earlier this month HRC had announced that 226 businesses from across the U.S. representing more than 8.5 million employees had signed onto a letter in support of the Senate sending the marriage equality legislation to President Joe Biden. The White House has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the bill.

"IBM, joined by more than 220 other companies, proudly signed this letter urging the U.S. Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to protect marriage equality for the purposes of federal law," stated Carla Grant Pickens, the company's chief diversity and inclusion officer. "No American should fear the legality of their marriage or adoption, and this legislation gives Congress a chance to affirm our American values of equality and fairness for all."

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