Sen. Ron Johnson told reporters at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday that he will not support the Senate’s marriage equality act in its current form, a reversal from his initial warm reception of the bill earlier this summer.
“This is just Democrats opening up a wound that doesn’t need to be opened up,” he added.
Johnson’s opposition backtracks on a July statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel where he saw “no reason to oppose” the same-sex and interracial marriage equality bill. He later clarified in early August that his statement was not a promise to vote for the bill but did not outright oppose it.
However, in a Common Sense Citizens of Washington County meeting recording obtained by the Journal Sentinel in late August, Johnson said he “would not support [the bill] in its current state,” adding that he only made his initial July statement to appease the press.
“So you just get hounded on this crap, right?" Johnson said in the recording. "So just to get them off my backs, I wrote a press release, and I said I always supported civil unions. Never felt that we needed to do anything other than that."
He went on to say in the recording that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges — the 2015 case that established same-sex marriage as a constitutional right — was “wrongly decided.”
Johnson also said Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was “probably right” to question Obergefell in his concurring opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson, the court case that overturned federal abortion rights previously guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.
“But that’s a different issue as to whether or not the Supreme Court would overturn it,” Johnson added. “They never will.”
Baldwin pushes on
Johnson’s reversal on marriage equality is untimely news for his fellow Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who has been working with a bipartisan group of senators to rally support for the Respect for Marriage Act.
The bill passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support in July by a vote of 267-157, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats. However, it faces a tougher path in the Senate, where Democrats need support from 10 Republicans due to Senate filibuster rules.
Just three Republicans – Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis – have publicly supported the bill. Baldwin and her colleagues must find seven more votes before the bill comes to the Senate floor, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said will happen “in the coming weeks.”
Baldwin remains optimistic about the bill’s chances despite Johnson’s reversal.
“I am working to earn the Republican votes we need to pass the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act with or without Senator Johnson,” Baldwin said Thursday in an email to The Daily Cardinal. “I am confident we will have over 10 Republicans who will say ‘yes' to marriage equality, and he is welcome to join us.”
Some Republicans, including Johnson, have been hesitant to support the bill over concerns about religious liberty infringements and polygamous relationships, according to the Journal Sentinel. In response, Baldwin and Collins co-authored a Washington Post op-ed outlining proposed changes that address those concerns.
“This legislation does not, in fact, legalize or recognize polygamous relationships or marriages,” Baldwin and Collins wrote. “Moreover, religious liberty is a founding tenet of our republic, and the Respect for Marriage Act honors that principle. Our bipartisan legislation leaves intact religious liberties and protections afforded to individuals and organizations under federal law.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.