Senate Democrats tee up vote to protect marriage equality after Supreme Court strikes down abortion rights

Comes after Clarence Thomas said in his Dobbs v Jackson concurring opinion that same-sex marriage rulings should be examined

Eric Garcia
Thursday 08 September 2022 18:21 BST
Democrats Defend Control Of U.S. Senate

The United States Senate is teeing up a vote to protect the right of same-sex couples to marry, as lawmakers returned from the August recess ahead of the midterm elections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on Thursday that he hoped the Senate would have a vote on same-sex marriage in the coming weeks before the upper chamber leaves ahead of campaign season.

Democrats had begun talking about codifying same-sex marriage shortly before it broke for recess last month. The push came after the Supreme Court released its Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling which overturned Roe v Wade, which long protected abortion rights.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion when the ruling came in June, saying the court should “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” including Griswold v Connecticut, which ruled that states have no right to ban contraception; Lawrence v Texas, which overturned prohibitions on gay sex; Obergefell v Hodges, which enshrined the right for same-sex couples to marry.

“The mere thought should make us sick to our stomachs,” Mr Schumer said. “The Senate has a responsibility now to act.”

The House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act, with 47 Republicans voting to pass the legislation alongside every single Democrat.

“If the Respect for Marriage Act can win significant Republican support in the House, there is no legitimate reason for Republicans in this chamber to stand in the way,” Mr Schumer said on the floor.

Since then, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – the first two openly LGBT+ senators – have been key negotiators on the legislation.

“It’d be one question if it weren't the law and asking people to make it a lot, but now, it's overwhelming American support for the ability of somebody to marry the person they love,” Ms Baldwin told reporters back in July.

They are currently working with Republican senators like Rob Portman of Ohio – who has a gay son and is retiring – as well as Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Senate Democrats, who have only 50 Senate seats, need 10 Republican senators to join them.

But other Republicans like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have chafed at doing so, after he previously hinted he might support the legislation. On Thursday, he told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt that same-sex marriage would “never be overturned”.

“I mean, stare decisis protects decisions that if they were overturned, it would disrupt people’s lives. I don’t want to disrupt people’s lives,” he said.

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