Even as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing to call for a vote to enshrine same-sex marriage as law, the prospects for its success are dwindling. Thanks to the Senate’s arcane (and racist) filibuster rules, ten Republican senators would have to sign on to the measure in order for it to succeed. Right now, that’s looking like a very iffy proposition.
When the House voted on the Respect for Marriage Act in July, a surprisingly large number of Republicans – 47 – joined Democrats to pass the bill. The bipartisan nature of the margin led to widespread speculation that the measure would garner similar support in the Senate.
At first, that seemed to be the case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t take a strong stand against the bill, The number two ranking Republican, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) appeared equally unconcerned about how his colleagues voted.
“As you saw, there was a fairly significant vote — bipartisan vote — last night in the House of Representatives,” Thune said following the House vote. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case in the Senate.”
Much of the focus has been on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). His fellow senator, out lesbian Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), is leading the charge in the chamber for the bill’s passage. At first, Johnson said he didn’t “see any reason to oppose” the legislation.
But within a month, he changed his tune.
“This is just Democrats, you know, opening up a wound that had really healed,” he said. “I’ve always been supportive of civil unions. The Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage and it’s, ‘Okay that’s the decision. Let’s move on.’”
Of course, the fact that the measure is needed at all is because Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas specifically called out Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that legalized marriage equality, to be overturned in his concurring opinion on Court’s ruling banning abortion. The Respect for Marriage Act would remove the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was rendered moot by that Obergefell ruling, from the books. If Obergefell was overturned, DOMA would go back into effect.
Johnson’s reversal is an indication that Republicans feel they have to double down on culture war issues, no matter how unpopular they are. As an incumbent in a tough re-election fight, Johnson could easily decide that voting to preserve marriage equality was a simple way to curry favor with more moderate voters. Instead, he realized that in today’s GOP, anything pro-LGBTQ is off-brand.
You would have thought that Republicans would have learned their lesson after the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. The immense unpopularity of removing a nearly 50-year-old right motivated Democratic voters so much that suddenly Republicans have been on the defensive. Marriage equality is also very popular among voters, and Republicans’ refusal to support it would be another reminder to voters just prior to the election that the party is wildly out of step with most of society. In terms of political strategy, it’s incredibly stupid.
However, if nothing else, Republicans are consistent. The party of Trumpism, Don’t Say Gay, and groomer accusations can’t afford to be seen to be betraying its base. Certainly, the Christian right made this very point. Immediately after the House vote, Family Research Council Action threatened to fund primary challengers for the 47 Republicans who voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act. Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group fighting LGBTQ rights, sent a letter to McConnell signed by 80 religious right leaders, condemning the legislation as an “attack on millions of Americans.”
Those are the voters the GOP has to worry about the most. The fact that they don’t make up a majority of Americans is a problem, of course. But then again, that’s where all the voter suppression efforts come in handy.