Senate Democrats Say They Have the Votes to Pass Marriage Equality Bill

Senate negotiators involved in talks to enact protections for same-sex marriage at the federal level say they have enough support to ensure passage of a bill, and will begin procedural votes as early as this Wednesday.

The Respect for Marriage Act — sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), the first openly lesbian senator in U.S. history — has the support of the entire Democratic caucus as well as a few Republican senators.

According to sources speaking to HuffPost, there are at least 10 Republicans who are on board with voting to thwart a Senate filibuster, which would have upended passage of the bill.

Baldwin also confirmed to CNN that there were enough votes to break a filibuster.

“We are going to get this done for loving families across America,” Baldwin said in a tweet on Monday.

It’s notable that the bill has enough votes to pass, as votes during so-called “lame duck” sessions, which take place after midterm elections, aren’t typically successful, especially when an opposing party is set to control one or both houses of Congress in the following term.

It’s unclear which Republican senators — aside from Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Susan Collins of Maine, who were involved in the negotiations process — will be voting to push the bill forward.

The bipartisan negotiation team issued a statement on the upcoming vote for the bill:

Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) also said he was taking procedural steps to prepare the legislation for a vote, with a test vote set to occur on Wednesday.

“No American should ever be discriminated against because of who they love and passing this bill would secure much-needed safeguards into federal law,” Schumer said.

The House of Representatives previously passed legislation to protect marriage equality, but the measure stalled in the Senate due in part to Republicans’ purported concerns about religious liberties.

A Senate amendment to the House bill would ensure that religious-affiliated organizations won’t be required to provide services, goods or access to facilities for marriage ceremonies they disapprove of, and wouldn’t affect federal benefits or grants to organizations that discriminate against same-sex couples in situations unrelated to marriage. The amendment also reiterates that polyamorous relationships wouldn’t be recognized at the federal level.

Although many members of the House Democratic caucus disapprove of these concessions, the altered version of the bill will likely pass in that chamber as well, if only to ensure that most marriage equality protections remain intact.

The bill repeals the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which stipulated that the federal government would only recognize marriages between one man and one woman.

DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013, and the Court deemed marriage equality law of the land in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision. But in a concurring opinion in the Supreme Court’s anti-abortion ruling this past summer, Justice Clarence Thomas said that all opinions dependent on a right to privacy — which includes Obergefell — should be re-litigated, prompting lawmakers to introduce legislation to recognize marriage equality at the federal level.

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals DOMA and creates federal protections for same-sex marriages performed in states where such marriages are allowed.

If the Supreme Court decides to undo Obergefell, however, the language of the bill would still allow states to re-implement homophobic same-sex marriage bans.

The new bill would still require those states to recognize marriages from states where marriage equality is legal, but would not require states to allow same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses within their borders.

“The federal government would still be required to respect same-sex couples’ already-existing marriages, as would other states in many circumstances,” reads an explainer on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website. “But a state that wanted to get out of the business of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples would not violate the Respect for Marriage Act.”

LGBTQ advocates highlighted this loophole on social media, noting that many news sites were wrongly reporting that the bill would codify marriage equality across the entire U.S.

“If SCOTUS overturns Obergefell (which is likely), many states will revert to old laws prohibiting same-sex marriages or pass new ones,” tweeted writer and human rights activist Leah McElrath.

“The bill on same-sex marriage would not codify same-sex marriage, and it’s unsurprising that reporters are just kinda tweeting out that word — ‘codifying’ — and clumsily misleading people,” said LGBTQ rights activist Charlotte Clymer. “That said, this bill needs to be passed. It’s the best we’re going to do right now.”

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