Ten Republican senators would need to back the Respect for Marriage Act for it to pass in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is the leading Democrat attempting to get Republican senators to back the bill which would codify same-sex and interracial marriage if passed.
“Americans overwhelmingly support the constitutional right to marry who they love without interference from politicians or the government,” Baldwin’s office said in a statement to the Daily Cardinal. “I introduced bipartisan legislation that would enshrine and protect marriage equality and make sure legal same-sex and interracial marriages are recognized because we cannot allow this freedom and right to be denied.”
Sen. Baldwin is the first openly gay senator — ever.
The Respect for Marriage Act would federally recognize all marriages across state lines by overturning the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act. This 1996 law defines marriage — under law — as between one man and one woman, allowing states to not recognize same-sex marriages.
The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges made this portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unenforceable. However, the law will stay in place should Obergefell v. Hodges be overturned, as conservative Justice Clarence Thomas expressed interest in revisiting this case.
“I had not expected to be fighting to protect a right that’s already been won in court,” Baldwin said in late July to POLITICO.
Justice Thomas, in a concurring opinion following the 6-3 passage of Dobbs v. Jackson, which effectively repealed the 1973 landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, wrote “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell.”
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) ensures the constitutional right for married couples to access contraception without government intervention, while Lawrence v. Texas (2003) states same-sex sexual activity is constitutional.
In dissent to Dobbs v. Jackson, Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor said “it breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law.”
“It places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage,” the Supreme Court Justices noted.
Baldwin held one-on-one conversations with her Republican colleagues about the Respect for Marriage Act. Additionally, members of Baldwin’s staff have been meeting with those of her Republican counterparts.
Ultimately, Baldwin believes these discussions are working.
“They’re going well. And I feel hopeful and I have to make some more calls,” said Baldwin. “I am talking to a lot of folks, but folks who I think want to get to yes.”
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are co-sponsors of this bill with Baldwin. Forty-seven U.S. House Republicans, including Wisconsin’s U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, voted for the bill’s passage in the house.
So far, five Republican senators have publicly backed the bill. Baldwin claims she is very close to reaching her goal of 10, with some Republican senators privately indicating their support.
“We’re very close to 10, which is what we need to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. But I think I will keep on going beyond 10, just as extra insurance,” Baldwin told The 19th News.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) publicly said he would support the bill on July 21, though he claims the bill is unnecessary.
“Unlike Roe v. Wade, I do not see any scenario in which the Supreme Court would overturn Obergefell,” Johnson said. “The Respect for Marriage Act is another example of Democrats creating a state of fear over an issue in order to further divide Americans for their political benefit. Even though I feel the Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary, should it come before the Senate, I see no reason to oppose it.”
However, on Aug. 3, Sen. Johnson stated that he would not necessarily vote in support of the bill — he would just not oppose it.
Other Wisconsin legislators find reason for why this bill is necessary through Thomas’ interest in revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges.
“This bill is very necessary,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Because the extremist-packed Supreme Court recently took away a half-century of law on Roe and in that decision Justice Clarence Thomas said they should revisit marriage equality.”
Rep. Pocan reiterated his support for the bill, highlighting his marriage to Philip Frank.
“I want to make sure my husband, Phil, can visit me in the hospital should I have to go back again, like when I had triple bypass a few years ago,” Pocan said. “I want to make sure my husband has my earned benefits for retirement and social security. I want to make sure that my husband is taken care of just like your spouses are taken care of.”
Editors Note: This story was updated on August 4, 2022, to reflect that, as of Aug. 3, Senator Ron Johnson stated that he would not necessarily vote in support of this bill, just that he would not oppose it. This statement came out shortly after this story went to print.