Senate Democrats are optimistic they can find 10 Republican votes to help them send a bill codifying gay marriage to President Biden’s desk after dozens of GOP lawmakers approved the legislation in the House.
While Republican support for a bill defining marriage nationwide as the union of two persons regardless of their sex would have been scarce even a few years ago, the views of party lawmakers have shifted, along with poll numbers on the issue.
The Democratic-led House passed the bill this week with the help of 47 Republicans, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican and GOP conference chair.
The bipartisan vote raised ambitions among Democrats across the Capitol that they could find the minimum 10 GOP votes needed to pass the legislation under the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.
“I was really impressed by how much bipartisan support it got in the House,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “I want to bring this bill to the floor and we are working to get the necessary Republican support to ensure it would pass.”
House Democrats drafted the gay marriage bill following the Supreme Court decision in June that overturned the 1973 ruling that made abortion a federal constitutional right.
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The ruling returned abortion law decisions to the states, triggering concerns among Democrats and gay-rights activists that the justices will apply similar logic and toss out the 2015 ruling that recognized gay marriage nationwide.
In the 2015 decision, the court decided the 14th Amendment requires states to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize such unions as “marriages.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion that accompanied the abortion decision, said the high court should review other decisions based on “substantive due process,” including the gay-marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“These radical justices took a wrecking ball to precedent of the court and privacy in the Constitution, and placed even more of our cherished freedoms on the chopping block,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in support of the gay marriage legislation.
“Make no mistake. While his legal reasoning is twisted and unsound, it is crucial that we take Justice Thomas and the extremist movement behind him at their word. This is what they intend to do,” she said.
Democrats are pushing to pass the legislation as poll numbers show gay marriage enjoys broad public support, even among Republicans.
A May Gallup poll found a record 71% of Americans support gay marriage, up from 27% when Gallup first began polling the issue in 1996. Among Republicans surveyed, 55% said they backed legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriage.
“This is an issue that many Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, feel has been resolved, so I think its time has come,” Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who began supporting gay marriage in 2013, when he learned his son is gay.
In addition to Mr. Portman, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have said they would back the measure.
The bill would formally repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton, that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
The new legislation also would enshrine into federal law a requirement that every state legally recognizes same-sex marriages.
Many Republicans say there’s no chance the high court will overturn Obergefell, noting among other things that Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion won no support from the other conservative justices and that even the possibility of a reversal presupposes a state creating a live legal dispute by passing a law anew against same-sex marriage.
They accuse Democrats of pushing a symbolic bill to rally their base rather than devoting floor time to more important domestic and foreign policy legislation.
“It’s a pure messaging bill, it’s obviously settled law right now,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, called the bill “a stupid waste of time.”
But Senate Majority Whip John Thune, South Dakota Republican, told reporters he believes 10 GOP lawmakers may back the bill, although many say they have not made up their minds or do not back the measure.
“There are clearly changing views across the country on the question of marriage,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican. “The way the democratic process is meant to work, those changing views can reflect changing laws. There is no doubt a great many Americans support changing marriage laws and we are seeing the democratic process operate.”
Mr. Cruz did not say how he planned to vote on the legislation.
Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, declined to say whether he would back a gay marriage bill.
“I’m going to delay announcing anything on that issue until we see what the majority leader wants to put on the floor,” Mr. McConnell said.
All five Republican House lawmakers from Kentucky voted against the measure.
Rep. Andy Barr, Kentucky Republican, called the bill “a gratuitous and politically-motivated measure,” that is “less about codifying same-sex marriage and more about expressing scorn and intolerance for people of faith who have a sincerely held religious belief in favor of traditional marriage.”