Senate to Move Forward on Gay Marriage Bill: Sen. Schumer

Senate to Move Forward on Gay Marriage Bill: Sen. Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on July 28, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Joseph Lord

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has confirmed that Democrats in the chamber will move ahead with a vote on a House-passed bill that would codify gay marriage as a federal legal right.

The proposal, dubbed the "Respect for Marriage Act," is one of a series of bills passed in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and returned the right to regulate and ban abortions to state legislatures.

The bill, which is likely coming before the Senate in the coming days, was approved by the House of Representatives in July; it would largely seek to codify the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges into federal law to make it more difficult to overturn.

“The 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,” Schumer said in a statement promising a vote on the bill.

It's unclear whether the legislation will have enough support to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold, as few Republicans have publicly avowed to back the bill.

Only three Republicans in the upper chamber—Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the sponsors of the bill, and retiring Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)—have committed to voting for the measure when it comes to the floor.

Some other moderates in the party, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), might join the trio. At least 10 Republicans will need to back it for it to advance to a simple-majority floor vote.

Most Republicans, however, haven't made a public statement on the proposal, saying that they'll wait until they can review the text fully.

Several Republicans have already come out against the bill, although few have based their criticism on the permissibility of same-sex marriage itself.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), during a Sept. 6 episode of his podcast "Verdict," announced his opposition to the legislation, citing concerns that the legislation will enable Democrats in the Justice Department to go after some private schools and other religious institutions.

"This bill without a religious liberty protection would have massive consequences across our country, weaponizing the Biden administration to go and target universities, K–12 schools, social service organizations, churches, and strip them all of their tax-exempt status," he said.

Cruz suggested that his opposition may not be final if Democrats agree to include provisions protecting religious liberty.

“We are having vigorous arguments in the conference about it. I and several others are pushing for an amendment to the bill that would be a strong protection of religious liberty.”

Cruz suggested that even without such an alteration, the bill could still win adequate GOP support to overcome the filibuster threshold.

“I don’t know if we will succeed in getting the vote on that amendment, and I don’t know how the vote will shake out. I hope it doesn’t pass, but I don’t know what will happen.”

Because the basis of Roe v. Wade relied heavily on the 14th Amendment, which has been used in a series of other cases addressing social issues, Democrats immediately raised the alarm over the possible overturn of a series of equal protection precedents. Included among these are the decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut, which declared access to birth control a federally recognized right, Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that states couldn't enforce laws against sodomy, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized gay marriage as a federally protected right.

Of further concern to Democrats was the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas, who broke with the rest of the court—which emphasized it wasn't interested in addressing other 14th Amendment cases—and called for a comprehensive reconsideration of equal protection precedents.

Other legislation in response to the decision, including the Women's Health Protection Act, which would have codified and greatly expanded the precedent laid out in Roe v. Wade, has failed in the Senate over bipartisan opposition from all 50 Republicans, joined by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Still, Schumer and the Democrats, in general, have viewed these and other votes as test votes to force Republicans to go on the record about social issues.

Meanwhile, a report from Reuters suggested that Democrats may be considering attaching the bill to a stopgap funding measure, which must be approved by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.

Republicans are already frustrated with the Democrats' heavy-handed use of the partisan reconciliation process and spending—the Democratic-majority 117th Congress has spent about $3.8 trillion in votes that were, with only one exception, entirely along party lines. Adding a gay marriage bill as a rider to a continuing resolution, in this climate, could serve to further heighten the difficulty of avoiding a shutdown, as it would almost certainly reinforce GOP opposition.