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Same-sex marriage bill stalls in Senate amid GOP opposition

Majority leader still '100 percent committed to holding a vote on the legislation this year'

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during the Senate Democrats’ press conference Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during the Senate Democrats’ press conference Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats on Thursday punted a vote on a bill to bolster same-sex marriage rights until after the midterm elections, after a group of bipartisan negotiators said they did not have the votes to overcome Republican opposition.

While talks led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, reached a deal on a bill, the group announced that they came up short of the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster and vote on the bill in the next few weeks.

The group asked Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York for more time on the legislation that would provide “certainty to millions of Americans in loving 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,” a statement from the lawmakers said.

“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 group said.

Supreme response

The Senate push to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage followed a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that wiped out a constitutional right to an abortion. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the decisions undergirding same sex marriage, same-sex relationships and access to contraception should be revisited.

The House passed a similar bill in July that would mandate all states honor out-of-state marriages regardless of the race, gender or sexual orientation of the couple. The bill would also formally overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which was largely ruled unconstitutional in 2012.

The effort ran into a roadblock in the Senate, where Republicans raised religious liberty concerns over legislation mandating recognition of same-sex marriages.

A spokesman for Schumer said the majority leader was “extremely disappointed” in Republicans but would honor the request to delay the vote until after November’s elections.

Schumer is still “100 percent 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,” a statement from the spokesman said.

Bill provisions

A draft of the Senate bill, dubbed the Respect for Marriage Act, included narrower provisions that would require states to honor marriages “regardless of the sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin of those individuals.”

But that did not include religious liberty protections Republicans have advocated for and negotiators said they would unveil shortly.

Negotiators have approached several Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, over supporting the legislation. However, the group has not received public commitments of support outside of the three Republican negotiators: Collins and Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

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