Senate Republicans Hem, Haw, and Even Back Gay Marriage Bill

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Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

For the first time in years, Senate Republicans will likely be forced to vote on whether they support a national right to same-sex marriage.

And perhaps due to the fact they hadn’t had to address the issue in some time, or because the public opinion of gay marriage has changed so rapidly in the years after the Supreme Court ruling in 2015, the responses of the usually disciplined Senate minority, varied.

Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Ron Portman (OH) were all-in behind the measure, already backed by 47 Republicans in the House. Sen. Thom Tillis (NC) indicated he was inclined to support the bill, as did Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK).

Then there were those who were “reviewing” the legislation.

“My staff is looking at it right now,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

“There’s no actual need for a vote, but whatever the bill is I’ll look at it when it gets here,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

“If it comes our way, I’ll take a look at it,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), adding that he believed there’s no indication that the law will change.

Gay Marriage Is Next Up on the Supreme Court Chopping Block

The bill itself, which passed the House on Tuesday, took The Daily Beast less than two minutes to read in its entirety. And same-sex marriage rights writ large are certainly something every current member of Congress has pondered before—especially those who’ve served since the 2015 Supreme Court decision that enacted a national right for same-sex couples to wed.

But in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the standard response of same-sex marriage being “settled law” used by many lawmakers who prefer not to talk about the issue took after the Supreme Court’s initial ruling on the matter, no longer holds the same meaning as it did just a few months ago. Not to mention, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas indicated in his opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, that the same-sex marriage ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, could be revisited.

To be sure, some Republicans were more candid. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said he won’t support the bill, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said the same.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called it a “stupid waste of time.”

The speed at which it moved through the House—and the potential for bipartisan consensus—even seemed to catch Democrats off guard. After the bill passed the House, Democratic leaders appeared pessimistic about whether there would be time to take the bill up as the days until August recess tick away. But as momentum seemed to build on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said they were working on lining up the necessary Republican support.

“This legislation is so important, I was really impressed by how much bipartisan support it got in the House,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who is gay, has been made Democrats’ point person on the matter and tasked with speaking to Republicans about the bill.

But Cornyn, in contrast, told reporters he’s not sure if there are 10 votes out there on the Republican side of the Senate. “I don't know. I’ve seen some public comments but I couldn’t—I don’t know.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters it was “interesting drama that the Democrats are trying to put on to say everything's at risk… the media attention that this has gathered, which is exactly what I'm looking for to try to make people across the country afraid.”

Aside from the right for millions of Americans to marry, there is a political risk for Republicans in this vote, which could haunt them for years if they come down on the wrong side of history. Public opinion over the past decade has steadily trended in support of protecting same-sex marriage at the federal level—and Democrats are virtually guaranteed to hammer Republicans on the campaign trail who vote against the proposal.

But not everyone seems to recognize that possibility—or the lay of the land as it stands.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), for one, suggested to reporters Wednesday to that same-sex marriage is already a states issue. Pushed in follow-up questions as a gaggle followed him through the Senate basement, Crapo said he was “not sure” what ruling reporters were referring to, to which several reporters responded “Obergefell.”

“I’ll have to go look at it. Sorry,” he said, before his elevator door closed.

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