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Bipartisan Senate majority advances Respect for Marriage Act

Senate Democratic leaders took a big gamble when they delayed a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act until after the midterms. Today, that gamble paid off.


By all appearances, the Respect for Marriage Act was well positioned to succeed months ago. As regular readers might recall, in July, a bipartisan House majority passed the legislation, which would codify same-sex marriage in federal law and protect marriage equality from Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices. Soon after, polls showed strong public support for the idea.

All proponents needed was 10 GOP senators who’d agree to let members vote on the bill. Today, those votes were there, and the bill cleared a procedural hurdle that put it on track to become law. NBC News reported:

The Senate voted Wednesday to open debate on a bill that would codify federal protections for same-sex marriage, signaling that the legislation has sufficient Republican support to pass. Lawmakers advanced the legislation in a 62-37 vote days after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to proceed on an updated version of the measure released by a bipartisan group of senators.

In all, 12 Senate Republicans sided with the Democratic majority on the procedural vote.

For those who might need a fresher, let’s revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.

When Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices overturned Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion in which he said the high court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality, among others, was “demonstrably erroneous” and should be “reconsidered.” It was part of a series of developments in GOP politics that suggested growing opposition to same-sex marriage, despite the apparent end of the dispute several years ago.

Democrats, led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, pushed the Respect for Marriage Act to codify the status quo for same-sex and interracial couples into federal law. The plan was to hold a vote before the midterm elections.

For Democratic strategists, this looked like a win-win scenario. If Senate Republicans backed the legislation, it would pass, become law, and protect millions of American families. If Senate Republicans balked, Democrats would use this against them, seizing on this as fresh evidence of the GOP’s radicalism and regressive perspective.

At least, that was the plan. In September, Democratic leaders backed off in the hopes that more time would lead to more votes.

In fact, Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership, agreed that proponents would get more votes after the elections than before. “If I wanted to pass that, and I was the majority leader and I wanted to get as many votes as they can possibly get, I’d wait until after the election,” the retiring Missouri lawmaker said.

The result was a gamble: The governing majority was so determined to actually get this done that Democratic leaders reluctantly decided to wait in the hopes that the Republican votes would materialize after the pressures of the election season have subsided.

What guarantees were there that Republicans will follow through and help end a filibuster during the lame-duck session? None — but the gamble paid off anyway.

The next step will be a final Senate vote on the bipartisan compromise — at that point, the legislation will only need 50 votes — and then the altered bill will head back the Democratic-led House before going to the White House.

There have been some major civil rights breakthroughs in recent years, and this is an important addition to the list.

Postscript: There is a familiarity to the circumstances. Twelve years ago, Senate Democrats tried to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but they couldn’t overcome a Republican filibuster. After the midterm elections, Democrats tried again. It worked: Then-Sen. John McCain all but begged his GOP colleagues not to allow openly gay Americans to serve in the military, but several Republicans — including some who’d backed the partisan filibuster months earlier — ignored him, sided with Democrats, and ended DADT.