WASHINGTON– When asked if he would support legislation to protect same-sex marriagewas a conservative Republican senator almost nonchalantly.
“I see no reason to be against it,” Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson told reporters, bringing Democrats one vote closer to an unexpected victory as they campaign to protect same-sex marriage and other rights after the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade had overturned what was legalizing abortion nationwide.
Johnson’s response, which came after 47 Republicans voted in favor of the law in the House of Representatives last week, reflected a sharp shift in GOP positioning after decades of fighting against same-sex marriage. Ten years ago, most Republicans proudly advocated that marriage should be between a man and a woman only. Now federal law protecting same-sex marriage is within reach choice year, with some Republican support.
The signal of possible support from Johnson — arguably the most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election this year — comes as Wisconsin’s other senator, Tammy Baldwin, is the lead Democrat tasked with convincing the necessary 10 Republicans to vote for vote the law. Baldwin, who is the first openly gay senator and has addressed gay rights issues since she first entered state politics in 1986, says the “world has changed,” particularly since the Obergefell v. Hodges was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015 gay marriage.
A Gallup poll conducted in May showed broad support for same-sex marriages, with 71% of US adults saying such partnerships should be legally recognized, including 55% of Republicans. Polls in Wisconsin mirror that national poll, with 54% of Republicans in the state saying they prefer same-sex marriage in an April poll by Marquette Law School. In May 2014, the state poll found support from just 23% of Republicans.
“People started to see that the sky hadn’t fallen,” Baldwin said in an interview, and that the 2015 decision gave legal protections to families who didn’t have them before. She says every member of Congress now has friends, family or co-workers who are openly gay.
“That probably has the biggest impact on where people end up,” she said. “It’s a vote of conscience.”
The bill pending in the Senate would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages and instead required states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were contracted . The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “gender, race, ethnicity or national origin”.
A vote could happen as early as next week, but it’s more likely in September when Congress returns from its August recess.
Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have also said they will vote for the law; Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski has also advocated for same-sex marriages in the past. Several other Republicans said they were undecided, including Utah Senator Mitt Romney, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, and Indiana Senator Mike Braun.
Particularly silent is Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell, who has declined to comment on the matter until Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer holds a vote.
Baldwin and other proponents say more GOP senators are quietly considering the bill. Democrats need 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster and get a bill through the 50-50 Senate.
A number of Republicans voted in favor of the bill in the House of Representatives, including New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the 3rd House Republican; Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus; and all four Republican members of the Utah congressional delegation.
Still, a majority of Republicans voted against in the House of Representatives, and similar dynamics are expected in the Senate.
Republicans opposed to the bill give a variety of reasons, with most arguing that the Supreme Court is unlikely to overthrow Obergefell and that Senate Democrats are playing politics by putting the bill on the floor. Democrats cite Judge Clarence Thomas’ consensus view in June’s ruling overthrowing Roe, in which he said Supreme Court rulings protecting same-sex marriage and couples’ rights to contraception should also be reconsidered.
When asked about their opposition, many Republicans have focused on process rather than substance.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is up for re-election this year, told CNN last week that he thought the bill was a “stupid waste of time.” He later said that he believed “there is zero, sub-zero probability that the Supreme Court or anyone will ban gay marriage in this country.”
Even Johnson blamed Democrats, as he said he was unlikely to oppose it, arguing that it was a set law and the vote was unnecessary. He said he still believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. But “society accepted it pretty well and moved on,” he said.
Other Republicans have made similar arguments, turning away from the more ideologically rigid statements of the past few years.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who will vote against the bill, said he recognizes that “reasonable people cannot agree with him” that marriage should be between a man and a woman, “and that there is room for differing views.” this question there. ”
North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer says he will vote against “unless I can be somehow compelled to do so.” He says he believes marriage is between a man and a woman because of his evangelical Christian faith , but “it’s not like I feel very strong about that either.”
Cramer said he believes the Senate will get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. “It’s more like people are ambivalent about it,” he said.
Portman, who is pushing to get more votes from his party, notes that public opinion has changed significantly over the years. He has been supporting same-sex marriage since 2013, when he announced that one of his sons is gay and that he believes people should be respected for who they are.
He was criticized by some Republicans at the time, but he says people often come to him now to thank him for his support.
It’s not just Republicans who have evolved on this issue. Former President Barack Obama did not publicly support same-sex marriage until 2012, prompted in part by then-Vice President Joe Biden, who voiced support a few days earlier. When the Defense of Marriage Act passed the Senate in 1996, only 14 Democrats opposed it.
David Stacy, a leading lobbyist for the Human Rights Campaign, says advocates of same-sex marriage suffered many setbacks in the early 2000s, including state ballot measures to ban gay marriage. But he believes Republicans have set off some kind of backlash by trying to use the issue against Democrats.
While the attorneys lost many of those fights, “we educated the public and moved public opinion,” says Stacy.
Associated Press writers Hannah Fingerhut in Washington and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin contributed to this report.