As the Senate prepared to move on a bill that would protect same-sex marriage, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) on Monday pushed back against GOP objections that it is unnecessary.
Some Republicans have said the Respect for Marriage Act, which would make marriage a constitutional right regardless of a couple’s sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, is moot because the U.S. Supreme Court has already protected marriage equality.
“The same court that overturned Roe vs. Wade puts in jeopardy a number of other Supreme Court cases: the case that affirmed same-sex marriage, the case that affirmed interracial marriage,” Baldwin, the lead Democratic negotiator for the new bill, said on CNN.
Lawmakers sprung to action after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in his opinion on the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, argued that the justices should also reconsider cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, which secured same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, and Griswold v. Connecticut, which gave married couples the right to access contraceptives.
Millions of U.S. couples, Baldwin said, “are legitimately concerned about the legitimacy of their marriage.”
Democrats are still working to secure 10 GOP votes to ensure the bill can overcome a Republican filibuster. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a sponsor of the bill, is a “yes” vote, along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) previously told reporters that he “probably will” vote for the bill.
Negotiators are considering an amendment to address GOP concerns about creating legal problems for religious groups, which could expand Republican support for the bill.
Baldwin said that, before the amendment, she had “five [Republicans] on the record and three more soft, not-quite-on-the-record” in her push toward the needed 10 votes.
Her fellow Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson (R) initially indicated he’d support the proposal but later backtracked and dismissed the bill as “just Democrats opening up a wound that doesn’t need to be opened up.”
The Respect for Marriage Act would formally repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which narrowly defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman — legislation that remains in place despite being negated in part by the Supreme Court.
Repealing the outdated legislation would be a strong and “very affirming statement” from Congress, Baldwin said.
“We often think, when we say the word marriage, of the wedding rights, but with a marriage certificate comes very important rights and responsibilities that people rely on, say, hospital visits and, you know, all sorts of things that are really important. So this is timely right now.”
Baldwin said Johnson has “gone back and forth quite a bit on this issue” and added that she hopes he’ll revert back to supporting the bill after seeing the new amendment.
“This is a real issue to millions of couples across the United States. This is not being done for political purposes. We have, already, a nice bipartisan group working very hard to pass it,” Baldwin said.
The House passed its Respect for Marriage Act 267-157 in July, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats voting in favor.
The bill could pass the Senate this month, and Baldwin says she expects the Senate to vote on it next week.
This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.