Democrats punt same-sex and interracial marriage vote until after election

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaking into a microphone while seated on the dais at a hearing
A bipartisan group including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) requested more time before a vote to build support for the same-sex and interracial marriage bill.
(Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Washington Post)

Democrats are punting a vote to protect same-sex and interracial marriages until after November‘s midterm election, pulling back just days after Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer vowed to put the Senate on the record on the issue “in the coming weeks.”

The delay was requested by key senators who have been negotiating changes to the legislation, and comes as many Republicans have been signaling opposition to it.

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the lead champion of the bill, had predicted that 10 Republican votes could be secured to prevent a filibuster and push the measure to passage. But hopes dimmed in recent days as some Republicans raised concerns about whether the bill would protect the rights of religious institutions, business owners or others who oppose same-sex marriage.

The decision adds to the uncertainty facing the legislation, as it gives interest groups and lawmakers who oppose the bill more time to rally Republicans against it. But supporters hope that by pushing the vote back, they will relieve election-year pressure from some conservative voters and persuade more Republicans to support the legislation.


“We’ve asked Leader Schumer for additional time and we appreciate he has agreed,” Baldwin said in a statement with other members of the bipartisan group that is negotiating the bill. “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 statement from Baldwin, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Tillis of North Carolina came after a meeting with Schumer, who had been considering a vote as soon as next week.

A spokesman for Schumer said he was “100% committed” to holding a vote.

“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,” said Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman.

Democrats and the small group of Republicans are moving to safeguard same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court ruled in June to overturn Roe vs. Wade and the federal right to an abortion. Lawmakers fear the ruling, and a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas, indicate that an earlier high court decision protecting same-sex marriage could come under threat.

“We all want to pass this quickly,” Schumer said last week. “I hope there will be 10 Republicans to support it.”

The Senate push for the historic vote and the openness by some Republicans to back it in an election year reflect a large shift on the issue since the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Polling shows widespread public support for allowing such unions.


The bipartisan group has been working closely with the GOP senators who are open to the legislation but concerned about religious liberty. They finalized an amendment this week that would clarify that the bill would not affect the rights of private individuals or businesses — rights that are already enshrined in law. The legislation would require the federal government and states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed, including interracial marriages.

“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 group said in the statement.

But some Republicans who had wavered on the bill were not yet on board.

Responding to the group’s statement Thursday, the White House emphasized again that the administration was leaving the mechanics of the legislation — such as the timing of a vote — to the Senate.

“We believe the Senate should find consensus just as the American people have,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

The bill protecting same-sex marriage cleared the House in July with the support of 47 Republicans — a larger number than expected, which improved the measure‘s prospects in the Senate. But as the weeks went on, more Republicans raised concerns about religious liberty.

Another proposed tweak to the bill would make clear that a marriage is between two people — an effort to ward off some far-right criticism that the legislation might allow polygamy.

It’s not clear how many Republicans might support the bill. In addition to Collins, Portman and Tillis, a fourth GOP senator, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has supported same-sex marriage in the past.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who is up for reelection this year, has said he doesn’t see a “reason to oppose it,” but has talked on both sides of the issue in recent weeks.

Most Republicans who oppose the legislation have said it is unnecessary because the court ruling allowing same-sex marriage still stands.

But others have gone further. One group, the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, has pushed back on the legislation.

“In the grander scheme, the Respect for Marriage Act is a way of putting an exclamation mark on the sexual revolution and its ideology,” Ryan Womack, who works for the alliance, wrote in a blog on its website.

Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.