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Senate Democrats Seek GOP Support on Same-Sex Marriage Bill

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Democrats are trying to build Republican support to codify-same sex marriage and extend protections to all married couples, a remarkable generational shift on LGBTQ rights even as the two parties battle on abortion, guns and other social issues.

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Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that he “fully and strongly” supports the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the House Tuesday with 47 Republican joining all Democrats in support. He is working with Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, one of the Senate sponsors of the bill, to help line up support from at least 10 Republicans whose votes would be needed if all Democrats in the chamber support the legislation.

“I want to bring this bill to the floor, and we’re working to get the necessary Republican support,” Schumer said.

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is a co-sponsor of the bill and Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, also will co-sponsor the legislation, his office confirmed on Wednesday.

Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina appear likely to support the measure. “I have long made known public my support for marriage equality,” Murkowski said.

Several other Republicans -- including Joni Ernst of Iowa, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roy Blunt of Missouri -- said they remain undecided.

“I’m looking at it. I don’t have any problem with where we are now,” Blunt said. “So, I wouldn’t have any problem with sustaining that, but I’m going to look at the bill and I haven’t had a chance to do that yet.”

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the GOP leadership, said it’s possible the legislation could get enough Republican votes to pass. He added that he does not expect GOP leaders to pressure their caucus to vote one way or another.

“My guess is on something like that it’s probably a vote of conscience,” he said.

The House legislation, passed with a 267-157 vote, repealed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally established in other states. It had passed the House with an overwhelming 324-67 bipartisan majority and was signed into law in September 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton.

At the time, only 27% of Americans said same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid under the law, according to Gallup poll data. That figure has steadily increased, with Gallup now finding that 71% of Americans say same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

The current bill would federally recognize same-sex marriages and ensure benefits for all married couples. It also requires that all states recognize public acts, records and judicial proceedings for out-of-state marriages and gives the Justice Department the power to enforce the law.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government cannot discriminate against married same-sex couples when determining benefits and protections. And the court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges found that state bans and refusal to recognize same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

But some Democrats raised concerns that the current conservative-leaning Supreme Court could overturn the 2015 ruling after it overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion.

In a concurring opinion, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court should review other “due process precedents” including the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

(Updates with details on Republican votes, starting in fifth paragraph)

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