This week: Democrats eye vote on marriage equality as Senate reconvenes

U.S. Capitol
Peter Afriyie
The U.S. Capitol, around sunset on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

The Senate is set to reconvene Tuesday afternoon after a monthlong recess, officially kicking off the home stretch to the November midterm elections.

The upper chamber broke for the August recess after Democrats passed their multibillion-dollar climate, taxes and health care bill, which crossed the finish line with the help of Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote. The House later cleared the bill, which President Biden signed into law.

Now, with two months left until the midterms, Senate Democrats are looking to pass a bill that would protect marriage equality on the federal level, requiring that an individual be considered married if the marriage is validated by the law of the state in which is was performed.  

The legislation, titled the Respect for Marriage Act, would also ban state officials from denying full faith and credit to an out-of-state marriage on the basis of sex, race or ethnicity, as well as allowing the attorney general to undertake law enforcement actions and giving individuals harmed by a violation of the proposed law a private right of action.

Additionally, the bill calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the legislation former President Clinton signed into law in 1996 that acknowledged that marriage is “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

The House passed the bill in July in a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the measure.

The lower chamber cleared the legislation nearly one month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that protected access to abortion as a constitutional right.

The ruling, which was officially handed down after a draft majority opinion leaked a month earlier, shook the nation, with Republicans celebrating the reversal of the landmark ruling and Democrats sounding the alarm about the future of women’s rights in the U.S.

Senate passage of a marriage equality bill was initially thought to be an uphill battle because of widespread GOP opposition, but Democrats saw a glimmer of hope when 47 House Republicans backed the measure.

Democrats are now making the marriage equality bill a top priority in the final two-month sprint to Election Day.

“We will have a vote on marriage equality,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters last month when asked what is on the upper chamber’s schedule in September.

Schumer would not give details on when a vote would take place.

Asked on Twitter if he is excited for any votes once the Senate reconvenes, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the Senate Democratic chief deputy whip, responded, “Marriage equality.”

But it remains unclear if there are enough Republican votes to push the marriage equality bill over the finish line. Assuming all Democrats are on board, at least 10 Republicans are needed to bypass a legislative filibuster.

Right now, three are in the “yes” column: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who sponsored the bill; and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who previously told reporters that he “probably will” vote for the measure.

Between eight and 10 Republicans are potential “yes” votes.

Axios reported last month that a coalition of senators were working on changes to the House-passed bill that would help it clear the upper chamber.

The office of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), another sponsor of the bill, told the outlet that she and Collins were working “to build more support with Republicans” with a particular focus on religious protections.

They were specifically looking at implementing “more clarity that the legislation would not take away any religious liberty or conscience protections.”

“I’m looking at protections for religion,” centrist Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has sided with Democrats on some previous high-profile votes, told reporters in the Capitol last month.

But time is running out.

Republicans are widely expected to take control of the House in the November midterm elections, which would end Democrats’ full control of Washington and make it significantly more difficult for lawmakers on the left to enact legislation.

Schumer told reporters last month that the Senate will also focus on confirming judges in September. On Tuesday, the upper chamber is scheduled to hold a cloture vote on Judge John Z. Lee’s nomination to the Seventh Circuit.

Additionally, the Senate has to pass government funding and reauthorize Food and Drug Administration User Fees before Sept. 30.

Tags 2022 midterms August recess Biden Brian Schatz Charles Schumer Kamala Harris marriage equality Mitt Romney Reconvene Senate Tammy Baldwin
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