The Washington Post

Senate negotiator­s push toward same-sex marriage vote

Bipartisan group works to get some GOP support, pass measure this month

- BY MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR AND LEIGH ANN CALDWELL

A bipartisan group of senators is readying changes to a marriage equality bill as part of a last-ditch effort to appease Republican concerns and guarantee that federal protection­s for same-sex and interracia­l marriages become law.

The group of five senators, led by Tammy Baldwin (D-wis.) and Susan Collins (R-maine), is scrambling to get 10 Republican­s to support the measure ahead of an expected vote before the chamber adjourns in the next month to campaign for the November elections. The Senate remains the final hurdle for the legislatio­n to become law: The House passed the measure in July with support from 47 Republican­s, a surprise to Senate Democrats who had not prepared to consider such legislatio­n in the final half of the year.

Baldwin and Collins met with Sens. Rob Portman (R- Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Wednesday morning to finalize additional language after Republican­s voiced concerns that the fourpage proposal does not clearly mention religious liberty exceptions.

The group thinks it has the support of 10 Republican senators, or will by the time the measure comes up for a vote, which could be as early as next week, according to three Senate aides familiar with the negotiatio­ns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversati­ons. But those Republican­s won’t announce support for the legislatio­n until the vote, so they can be shielded from attacks that could pressure them to vote otherwise.

That confidence pushed Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to announce Wednesday that a vote on the bill will happen “in the coming weeks,” a firm deadline that will force Republican­s to go on the record ahead of the midterms.

The Respect for Marriage Act would enshrine federal protection­s for same-sex and interracia­l marriages and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes marriages in the United States as between one man and one woman.

Passing the legislatio­n would mark the first time Congress approves protection­s for marriage equality, a significan­t feat for a body that once voted to limit such rights. The push to codify samesex marriage became more urgent to liberals after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade this summer, motivating Democrats to hold a vote on the issue and protect the right from future challenges.

Baldwin and Collins said they are working to add new language that would clarify the bill would not infringe on religious liberty, a major concern for some Republican senators, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-utah), who is seen as critical to its passage.

“I’m continuing to work on that and that’s the area of my focus,” Romney told reporters Tuesday, dodging whether he would back the bill if religious liberty provisions were included.

The change would also address concerns by conservati­ves that the bill is too broad and leaves room for interpreta­tion that could lead to federal recognitio­n of polygamous relationsh­ips. Collins said that is being corrected “even though there’s not a single state that allows for polygamous marriages.”

Yet the Senate remains the main hurdle as some Republican­s who have called for religious liberty considerat­ions are already saying they will not support the legislatio­n, even with the change. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) echoed many Republican­s who believe Democrats are prioritizi­ng politics by voting to codify “something that’s already been supported by the court.”

In audio obtained by Heartland Signal, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-wis.) told a gathering in Wisconsin last week that he will not support the legislatio­n “in its current state,” even though he told reporters last month he did not have a reason to oppose it. He said he would introduce his own amendment alongside Sen. Mike Lee (R-utah) if the bill came to the floor.

“We’ve got enough problems to divide this nation. Let’s not drag that back up,” Johnson said about Democrats revisiting same-sex marriage. “I’m not happy with the Baldwins of the world opening that wound.”

In response to Republican­s claiming the vote is political, Baldwin, who is gay, laughed, then said, “It’s not. It’s very real for a whole lot of people.”

Tillis said there is still enough time to educate his fellow Republican colleagues about what this bill actually does, which he says is equally as important as approving those technical fixes.

Because GOP support in the Senate remains in question, senior Senate Democrats earlier this week considered attaching the legislatio­n to a sweeping government funding bill that must pass this month to prevent a government shutdown. That idea was quickly shut down by Republican­s upon their return to Washington on Tuesday, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-tex.) simply telling reporters that “yeah” it would be a problem for Republican­s if Democrats politicize­d the funding bill.

But those in the bipartisan group were also caught off guard, according to several aides, expressing extreme displeasur­e with the idea because it could kill their effort to get Republican­s on board. Baldwin, who is largely regarded as the senator leading negotiatio­ns, told reporters repeatedly that attaching the bill to any vehicle was “not her preferred path.”

“That would cause us to lose Republican support in my view, and it’s also not appropriat­e for a policy bill of this sort,” Collins said.

Senators are pushing to pass the legislatio­n over the next month ahead of the midterm elections to serve as another bipartisan notch for this congressio­nal term. Discussion­s are underway about how to include the new text into the bill since adding it through an amendment process would mean devoting more floor time to the manner, which the chamber does not have during this session.

Any changes to the current legislatio­n would also mean the House would have to pass it again, which should not be a complicate­d ask. Democratic leadership aides note, however, that it’s too early to know when they can take up the legislatio­n since they will return to Washington next week.

In a Washington Post op-ed Tuesday, Baldwin and Collins reiterated that supporting the legislatio­n would reflect most Americans’ belief that supporting marriage equality is a no-brainer and said aspects of the four-page bill have been “misunderst­ood, leading to false assertions and mischaract­erizations of its scope.”

“We have worked across party lines to bring the Senate together and build support for the Respect for Marriage Act because we should be able to agree that samesex and interracia­l couples, regardless of where they live, both need and deserve the assurance that their marriage will be recognized by the federal government and that they will continue to enjoy freedoms, rights and responsibi­lities that come with all other marriages,” the senators wrote.

The Senate remains the final hurdle for the legislatio­n to become law: The House passed the measure in July.

 ?? Jabin Botsford/the Washington POST ?? Sen. Susan Collins (R-maine) is part of a bipartisan group that is working to add new language to the bill to codify same-sex marriage that would clarify that the legislatio­n would not infringe on religious liberty — which is a major concern for some Republican senators.
Jabin Botsford/the Washington POST Sen. Susan Collins (R-maine) is part of a bipartisan group that is working to add new language to the bill to codify same-sex marriage that would clarify that the legislatio­n would not infringe on religious liberty — which is a major concern for some Republican senators.

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