Same-Sex Marriage Bill in Senate Gets Delayed Until After Midterm Elections

(Bloomberg) — Senate backers of a bill to ensure federal recognition of same-sex marriages abruptly delayed a vote on the legislation until after the midterm elections, aiming to ease the partisan heat and ensure enough Republican support for passage.

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Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and the bill’s other sponsors said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer granted them additional time on the bill after some Republicans balked at publicly endorsing it.

“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,” the bill sponsors, including GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio, said in a Thursday statement.

All Senate Democrats support the bill, but it would need at least 10 GOP votes to get the 60 needed to advance under Senate rules. Postponing action may make it easier to get that support by letting Republicans avoid taking a stand that risks turning off either their core conservative base or more moderate independents until after voters cast their ballots in November.

Portman said the prospects for a big bipartisan vote will likely improve after the election by taking the “political sting” out of the issue.

Senator Roy Blunt, a retiring senior Republican from Missouri who is undecided on the bill, said he suggested delaying the vote so it doesn’t look like a political ploy.

“If I really wanted to make the best effort to pass it, I’d wait until after the election,” Blunt said. “If I was only doing it for a political purpose, I’d do it next week.”

Senators, who finished work for the week early Thursday afternoon, are also running short on time. Next week, the Senate could take up must-pass stopgap legislation to keep the government running past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, and lawmakers are eager to return home soon after that to campaign ahead of the elections.

Baldwin and Collins had begun circulating the amendment designed to protect the religious liberties of churches and other institutions that oppose gay marriages, one of the central issues raised by some Republicans who were seen as potential supporters. But some say, including Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said Thursday that they hadn’t yet had a chance to review the text and make up their minds.

The delay is “good news,” Romney said. “There are a number of people working on religious freedom provisions, myself included. Those have been included and so I think there’s a growing recognition that there’s a real effort to try and get something to become law.”

‘Extremely Disappointed’

Schumer vowed earlier this month that he would bring the legislation to a vote “in coming weeks.” His spokesperson, Justin Goodman, said the New York Democrat “is extremely disappointed that there aren’t 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to vote yes on marriage equality legislation at this time.”

Goodman also said Schumer “will hold the bipartisan group to their promise that the votes to pass this marriage equality legislation will be there after the election.”

Several Democrats said they would rather wait than risk the legislation failing.

“I want a law, not just a bill,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said. “I want a law, not just a vote.”

But Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, said Democrats should force the issue.

“Every single member of Congress should be willing to go on record,” Warren told reporters. “And if there are Republicans who don’t want to vote before the election, I assume that’s because they’re on the wrong side of history.”

The House in July approved similar same-sex marriage legislation on a bipartisan 267-157 vote. The House will have to vote again if the religious freedom amendment is included by the Senate.

The legislation would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman and was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court. It would give federal recognition to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages and require interstate recognition of marriages. States could still refuse to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

The legislation grew out of concerns that the current conservative-leaning Supreme Court could overturn the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the right of same-sex couples to marry. After it overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court should review other “due process precedents,” including the ruling in Obergefell.

Polls show broad public support for allowing same-sex marriage

Sarah Kate Ellis, President and chief executive of LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement that, “The freedom to marry for loving same-sex couples should not be a partisan issue, and we are confident that at the end of the day, fair-minded Senators on both sides of the aisle will come together to get this done.”

Conservative organizations have been trying to head off passage in the Senate. In a July letter to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, the heads of groups including the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council wrote that the House bill “is a startling expansion of what marriage means—and who may be sued if they disagree—that threatens the freedom of numerous “decent and honorable” Americans of different faiths, creeds, and walks of life who wish to live consistent with their deeply-held beliefs.”

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