WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate won’t vote on legislation to secure marriage equality for millions of Americans until after the midterm elections, bipartisan negotiators announced Thursday.
The move follows weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions among five U.S. senators from both political parties who have been drafting an amendment to the House-passed legislation that they hoped would secure more GOP votes. The amendment would clarify religious liberty protections, though those protections already are in place.
There had been hopes among the negotiators and LGBTQ advocates that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this week would begin the process of moving the bill past an expected 60-vote legislative filibuster in the evenly divided Senate and toward a simple majority passage vote.
But a drive to get at least 10 GOP senators to support the bill appears to have fallen short, leading to a delay until after the November midterm elections.
“We’ve asked Leader Schumer for additional time and we appreciate he has agreed,” Sens. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat; Susan Collins, a Maine Republican; Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican; Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat; and Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, wrote in a joint statement released Thursday afternoon.
“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,” they added.
The U.S. House passed the bill in July following a 267-157 bipartisan vote that got the backing of 47 Republican lawmakers.
The so-called Respect for Marriage Act would ensure that same-sex couples would continue having their marriages recognized federally and at the state level in the event the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the 2015 case that legalized marriage equality nationwide.
The legislation would also protect interracial marriages, should a future Supreme Court ruling strike down the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that voided state laws making it illegal for interracial couples to marry.
Specifically, the bill would “require state government to recognize marriages from other states regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the two people in the marriage.”
So if one, or both, of those U.S. Supreme Court cases and the constitutional protections they established were to be overturned, states could bar same-sex couples from marrying. But if that couple were to travel to a state with marriage equality, their home state would need to recognize the union.
Momentum behind this legislation as well as bills to secure the right to use contraception began moving in Congress after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end constitutional protections for abortion in June.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion in the case that the justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents” and singled out three cases that he believed should be reconsidered by the current court.
The cases — Griswold v. Connecticut, Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas — provide constitutional protections for people to determine if and when to use contraceptives and who they marry, and prevent the government from criminalizing adult private consensual sexual relationships.
Schumer said Thursday before the delay announcement that the “onus” for advancing the bipartisan marriage equality bill on the floor rested with Republicans, who need at least 10 of their members to support it for it to advance.
“To downplay this issue, to let it pass by, or to act as if we can put it off for another time is not the right thing to do,” Schumer said. “We should do it now.”
Schumer’s spokesman Justin Goodman said in a statement Thursday afternoon that Schumer “is 100% committed to holding a vote on the legislation this year before Justice Thomas has a chance to make good on his threat to overturn Obergefell.”
The spokesman added that Schumer is “extremely disappointed that there aren’t 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to vote yes on marriage equality legislation at this time.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has been coy about support for the legislation, saying Tuesday that “if the majority leader decides to bring it up, we’ll see where the votes are.”
In order to get the backing of GOP senators, the group of five negotiators has been working on an amendment that would cement already existing religious liberty protections.
In their joint statement Thursday afternoon, they wrote that “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.”