Washington — The Senate will delay a vote on legislation enshrining marriage equality into federal law until after the November elections, members said Thursday, a move GOP negotiators believe will spur more support for the proposal from their Republican colleagues who are seeking religious liberty protections.
The group of five senators involved in the talks over a bipartisan plan to protect same-sex marriage said in a statement that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed to their request for additional time on the legislation.
“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.”
The Senate negotiators — Democrats Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — said they’re “confident” the bill will garner the bipartisan support needed for its passage when it is brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
The bill is part of Congress’s legislative response to the Supreme Court’s June decision, which rescinded the constitutional right to an abortion. The legislation protects marriage equality by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and extending federal protections to same-sex and interracial couples.
The Democratic-controlled Houseits version of the marriage equality bill with backing from 47 Republicans in July, and several GOP senators expressed support for the proposal, raising hopes it could win approval in the evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to advance legislation.
But some Republicans warned the House bill could infringe on religious liberties, prompting a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators to begin working to reach consensus on a revised version of the plan that would satisfy those concerns.
Democrats have pushed for urgency in taking up the marriage equality plan, and a spokesman for Schumer said the majority leader is “extremely disappointed” there are not 10 Senate Republicans who would support the legislation now.
“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 Thomas has a chance to make good on his threat to overturn Obergefell,” Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesman said in a statement, referencing Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court decision that established the right to same-sex marriage.
Goodman continued: “Just like he has persisted for the last two years on legislation that no one thought could pass, Leader Schumer will not give up and will hold the bipartisan group to their promise that the votes to pass this marriage equality legislation will be there after the election.”
Republican senators suggested that waiting until after the November elections to vote on the measure could attract more GOP backing.
Collins told reporters Thursday she believes they’re in “very good shape” on the legislation and expects it to pass.
“I think we’ve managed to thread the needle on the religious liberty concerns,” she said. “We’ve taken a lot of input, and I think we’re in a very good position.”
Portman, who was an early supporter of the legislation, said that the possibility of a stronger bipartisan vote on the bill after the November midterm elections “seems likely,” while Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, also a Republican, told reporters it’s a “wise decision” to wait until after the election to hold the vote.
“If you do it after the election, it’s clearly not something that you’re doing just for a political purpose,” Blunt said. “And I think people will think about it more thoughtfully because of that, and a handful of them [are] likely to decide to be somewhere after the election that they wouldn’t have been with a vote that was purely at least likely a political ploy.”
Baldwin, who has taken a lead role for Democrats in shepherding the bill through the Senate, told reporters Wednesday that the group was making additional changes to an amendment “for clarity for members who have concern,” but said she is “pretty confident” the plan will clear the Senate when it comes up for a vote.
The bill protecting same-sex marriage is one of several pieces of legislation the upper chamber is rushing to take up before the end of this Congress in January.
The White House has asked lawmakers to provide emergency funding of $47 billion to cover a number of issues, including Ukraine, natural disasters, COVID-19 and monkeypox, and government funding is set to run out at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Top Senate Democratslinking the marriage equality bill to a stopgap government funding measure, but such a move was likely to complicate efforts to avert a partial government shutdown.
If the Senate passes the marriage equality legislation with an amendment that safeguards religious liberty, the House will have to take up the plan again.
Jack Turman and Alan He contributed to this report.