Democrats Delay Senate Vote to Protect Gay Marriage as GOP Denies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats decided Thursday to postpone a planned vote on legislation to provide federal protections for same-sex marriage until after the midterm elections in November, amid falling votes. hopes of garnering enough Republican support to secure passage with close races on the line.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat and lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, said delaying the action would increase the chance of getting the 10 Republican votes needed to push it through the evenly split Senate, where 60 would be needed to move along. Forward.

The decision to do so was a relief to Republicans, the vast majority of whom oppose the measure and were concerned that voting against it so close to the election would alienate voters.

He saved Republican senators in tough re-election races, including Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Florida’s Marco Rubio, a tough choice from casting a vote that would anger his party’s conservative base or could sour independent voters in later days. of the Bell. . The amended legislation would also have to go back to the House, where Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina, who is running for Senate, would be forced to vote against it a second time.

But the delay angered some Democrats who argued Republicans should be forced to go on record.

“We need to vote on marriage equality today,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “All members of Congress should be willing to go on the record. And if there are Republicans who don’t want to vote on that before the election, I guess it’s because they’re on the wrong side of history.”

Polls show most Americans support same-sex marriage, but Republicans are divided. At a private lunch with other Republicans this week, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina explained to his colleagues that it would be politically smart for them to support the measure, according to a Senate aide who described the meeting on condition of anonymity.

But the twist suggested that most Republicans preferred to stay away from an issue on which their party is divided. It was the second time in a week that the GOP. he had struggled to articulate his position on an important social issue. On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, introduced a 15-week federal abortion ban, reigniting debate on the issue at a time when polls have shown voters are already alarmed by the disappearance of the right. to abortion. Many Republicans distanced themselves, eager to steer the campaign conversation away from an issue they believe hurts their candidates.

The abrupt change of plans on the marriage bill was the latest surprising twist in the measure, which began as a messaging bill but morphed into a concerted legislative effort after an unexpected number of House Republicans House will vote in favor.

“We’re very confident that the bill will pass,” Baldwin said Thursday. “But we will need a little more time.”

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Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and Majority Leader, was eager to hold a vote before the election, if only to put on record that Republicans were voting against a widely popular position on a social issue. But she turned to Mrs. Baldwin and senators from both parties with whom she had been working to reach a compromise.

“Leader Schumer is extremely disappointed that there are not 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to vote for marriage equality legislation at this time,” Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said in a statement. He added that Mr. Schumer “would hold the bipartisan group to his promise that the votes to pass this marriage equality legislation will be there after the election.”

The intense legislative push in the Senate began in July, after the House passed the same-sex marriage bill with 47 Republicans voting in favor. At the time, Mr. Schumer said he was heartened by the number of G.O.P. support he had garnered, and promised to work to find the votes necessary to move the measure from a filibuster to a vote.

Ms. Baldwin expressed confidence that she could bring at least 10 Republicans on board and said she hoped even more would vote for the legislation when it reached the assembly.

Democrats have been pushing to enact the legislation after the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down nearly 50-year-old abortion rights, and amid concerns that precedents protecting same-sex marriage rights could be the next to fall.

But momentum on the issue faded as Democrats spent the final days before the August recess pushing the Inflation Reduction Act, the core of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

And since returning to Washington last week, Republican senators have expressed concern that the bill would violate the religious freedom of those who do not accept same-sex marriage as valid. The bill would require the government to recognize same-sex marriages and enshrine marriage equality for purposes of federal law.

But above all, the concerns Democrats heard were political, related to the risks of holding such a vote just weeks before the midterms.

Mr. Schumer wanted to move quickly. He briefly floated the idea of ​​linking marriage equality legislation to a bill to finance the government that must be passed by September 30. And his aides said Democrats were considering moving as early as Thursday to set up a plenary vote next week on the marriage bill.

But Ms. Baldwin demanded more time to find the Republican votes to pass the bill, rather than hold a vote this month that would fail at the hands of the GOP.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the Republicans involved in the negotiations. “This bill is going to pass. I think we have succeeded in threading the concerns about religious freedom. We have received many contributions”.

Emily Cochrane contributed to this report.