In the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, Democrats in the Senate are planning now to vote on legislation to protect same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. Those are two other existing rights that the sort of legal framework for which rested on the same legal argument that Roe rested on. Sue, there is a big political calculus here to get Republicans on the record on these issues ahead of the midterms.
Democrats looking to fight for marriage rights ahead of midterms
there’s a lot going on here. And the first thing I’d say is this wasn’t supposed to be on the Senate agenda. The Senate had no plan to take up legislation codifying the rights to gay and interracial marriage. But the House, you know, in a sort of symbolic vote or what they thought would be a symbolic vote, put this bill up in July before they went out for the summer break. And not only did it pass, but it passed with 47 Republicans, which in the House is a pretty big bipartisan vote these days.
So it kind of changed the conversation on Capitol Hill. Like, you know, the party in power does – this kind of symbolic votes on tough issues happen all the time. People want to get people on the record. They want to campaign on it. But it became like, wait a minute, could we actually pass this in the Senate? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t have plans to put it on the schedule, but now it is because they’ve had this momentum and there is bipartisan support for it in the Senate.
Senator Rob Portman, who’s a Republican from Ohio, who has become a supporter of gay rights after his son came out publicly several years ago, and Tammy Baldwin, who is an openly gay female senator from the state of Wisconsin – there are four hard yeses right now in favor of the bill among Republicans.
Four Republicans to vote for marriage rights
That would be Portman, Murkowski, Collins, and Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina. Four is nice, but as you well know, if you know the Senate, you need 10. So Baldwin and Portman are relatively confident that they can get at least that magic number of 10. Schumer said that they could start the process to bring this up in the Senate as early as next week. And we could know by the end of the month if Congress actually passes legislation to codify these rights and send it to Biden and, you know, potentially give Democrats another legislative win before the election.
I think it’s interesting that there’s this universe of Senate Republicans that are holding off and won’t say how they’re going to vote. I think we expected they’ll get there. But I think that they’re – it’s just a recognition that the politics on this issue have changed dramatically.
People like Liz Cheney, a very conservative Republican who voted against the issue years ago, has a gay sister and changed her position and voted yes on it this time. There are lots of Republicans like that who’ve shifted on this issue, and it’s a recognition that their constituents think that they should support this.
Congress fighting culture war
You know, gay marriage isn’t as complicated as abortion as a social issue – just if you look at the polling. I mean, gay marriage is – the debate is largely settled in this country. Super majorities of the country believe that gay marriage should be legal including majorities of Republicans. It’s not as controversial, but it is ahead of an election. And look, like, the resistance to gay marriage and acceptance of gay marriage largely resides in socially conservative religious groups, and they tend to be a base of the Republican Party. So, you know, you don’t tend to want to annoy your base before an election. Even if you are publicly in support of that issue, you don’t like reminding voters of these things.
We should also note there’s no threat to gay marriage or interracial marriage right now, which has been one argument that Republicans are trying to fall back on, is, like, this procedural argument. But that’s not flying with Democrats these days.
Democrats could get the political and policy win on cultural issues
This idea that, like, the rights you took for granted or thought were ingrained can just be gone. So I think that the country’s receptive to this idea right now. Like, why don’t we protect these rights? And like abortion, Congress never made a law, right? They relied on a Supreme Court decision to protect this right. That was always a fundamental legal argument against Roe, that it should be – it’s done through legislation and not through the courts.
So now they’re doing it through legislation. And this is arguably what conservatives would say should happen, that these kind of things should happen through the legislative process and not the courts. But we’ll find out. And so I think Democrats might be in a weird position where, like, they wanted the issue – so they might get the political win, but they might actually get the policy win. And it’s very rare those two things happen especially on culture issues.
Democratic leaders campaigning on marriage rights
One thing that stood out to me after the Dobbs decision was how quickly many Democratic leaders sort of pivoted to say, this isn’t just about abortion; this is about other rights like access to contraceptives. And gay marriage and interracial marriage. In theory, I think they thought they’d be able to campaign on that this fall. And they are, in some ways, campaigning on that. But now they may actually have legislation to show for it, too, which is the surprise.
we’re in this rare moment where we are having these culture war fights, but Democrats feel more emboldened. I think a lot of times the left feels more back on their heels in these debates, and they’re the ones sort of forcing these culture votes and culture issues. And they’re winning on them, and that – we don’t see that happen a lot as well.
It’s not that long ago – 2004, right? – that there was a national election that was animating the right on issues like same-sex marriage. And now it’s – like Sue was saying, a majority of Americans support it. So Democrats see this opening to add it to things like abortion because public opinion is so overwhelming in their favor. So I just feel like it’s one of those things.