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Semafor LogoKadia Goba
Kadia Goba
politicsNorth America

Senate expected to codify same-sex marriage before year’s end

Kadia is a Political Reporter for Semafor, joining us from Buzzfeed News. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.

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Title iconThe News
Supporters of gay marriage rally in front of the Supreme Court. June 25, 2015.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Senate is expected to pass the Respect for Marriage Act before the end of the year, which would require states to recognize same-sex unions if the Supreme Court strikes down marriage rights.

“We're confident that we'll have the votes when it comes to the floor,” a person close to negotiations told Semafor. “We've been guaranteed that this is going to come up before January.”

Democrats had the opportunity to bring the bill to the floor before the August recess but delayed it, giving bipartisan negotiations an opportunity to continue instead of taking it directly to voters, who polls show strongly support marriage equality. The latest version of the bill clarifies religious liberties and includes language that reaffirms the bill does not validate polygamy, which some Republican members had expressed concerns about.

The bill has bipartisan appeal and passed the House in July with the support of 47 Republicans. It’s unclear how it would be put forth for final passage, either as a standalone or attached to a larger must-pass bill. Supporters are reluctant to draw too much attention to talks with the midterms still raging, but expectations are high that it has the votes to pass.

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Sources tell Semafor midterm elections will determine the timing and the vehicle. If Democrats lose the House and Senate, expect a last minute dash to get their legislative agenda done by the end of the year. In roughly seven weeks they’ll have to potentially address the debt ceiling, pass the National Defense Authorization Act, and fund the government, leaving little time for a floor vote to codify same-sex marriage.

undefined headshotKadia's view

Republicans have been fighting more culture wars over LGBT issues this election cycle than at any period since George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, but same-sex marriage has had little to do with any of them.

A number of Republican-led states passed laws banning gender-affirming treatment for minors, an issue that also features in numerous campaign ads, and Republican lawmakers in Congress have introduced similar bills as well. Florida Republicans and Disney are in an extended fight over the Parental Rights in Education Act – the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to critics — and social conservatives have also pushed back against LGBT characters gaining more prominence in popular entertainment. “Groomer” has returned as an epithet, echoing homophobic slurs used decades ago to try to ban LGBT teachers from public schools.

For now, though, more Republican lawmakers and voters than ever support same-sex marriage and it seems like many conservatives would prefer to keep debates centered on transgender issues. It’s not lost on them that 71% of Americans approve of same-sex marriage and voting a bill down could expose Republicans to a full election cycle of tough questions about their position.

Title iconRoom for Disagreement

Senators opposed to the Respect for Marriage Act have typically argued it’s unnecessary because they doubt the Supreme Court would overturn marriage equality. Few seem willing to revisit direct criticism of same-sex marriage itself. But National Review’s editors argue that it’s a mistake to separate it from more recent fights over LGBT issues. “The bullying, unfairness, and sheer illogic of the trans movement have all drawn strength from same-sex marriage,” they wrote in July.

Title iconThe View From Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signaled the government would consider “civil partnerships” after a petition circulated online in support of same-sex marriage. Zelenskyy said any reforms could not occur during the war because the measure requires a change in the constitution.

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