Senate Democrats agreed Thursday to delay a vote on protecting same-sex marriage equality until after the midterm elections, a major concession to Republicans seeking to find enough GOP votes to pass the measure.
Instead of forcing GOP lawmakers to take a tough political stand before the election, Democrats effectively caved to Republicans threats that they would scuttle the measure if it came up for a vote next week as previously planned.
“We will be taking the bill up later, after the election,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told reporters when asked about when Democrats would bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
“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,” she added.
The announcement by Baldwin, who has led the Senate effort to pass same-sex marriage equality, came as a surprise when many insiders were expecting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to set a key procedural vote for Monday.
Schumer said he was “extremely disappointed” that the talks hit a dead end.
“Schumer will not give up and will hold the bipartisan group to their promise that the votes to pass this marriage-equality legislation will be there after the election,” said Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for Schumer.
The retreat amounted to an admission that there are not 60 votes in the Senate now to overcome a certain conservative filibuster.
Moderate Republicans had been haggling with Democrats and reluctant GOP colleagues to come up with a compromise bill that could attract the needed 10 Republican votes in the Senate.
They floated ideas to tweak the once-straightforward bill with amendments protecting religious groups from fallout if they resist accepting same-sex marriage.
The Republican negotiators apparently convinced Democrats that they would be more likely to wrangle enough votes after the election when there will be less political pressure, especially on a handful of Republicans who are retiring.
It’s not clear why Democrats put Republicans in the driver’s seat when the bill passed the House in July by an overwhelming vote that included many staunchly conservative Republicans.
Polls show a large majority of Americans favor same-sex marriage, and even a big chunk of Republicans have shifted from their once-lockstep opposition to marriage equality.
The new push to enshrine marriage equality in law erupted when the conservative Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion but also provided the framework to legalize same-sex marriage.
In a concurring decision, Justice Clarence Thomas demanded the court reconsider its ruling in the Obergefell case that gave the green light to marriage equality nationwide.
Even though there is no immediate threat to same-sex marriage rights, Democrats and gay rights activists responded by launching a push for Congress to act in case the top court winds up agreeing with Thomas.