Jul 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP inches closer to 10 Senate votes on same-sex marriage

Photo of rainbow pride flags lined up along a black fence

Rainbow pride flags outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City on June 7. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Support among Republican senators is gradually building for a House-passed bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and codify federal recognition for marriage equality, with senators predicting it will eventually get the votes it needs to pass.

Why it matters: Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled last month that rulings on marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights and contraception could be reconsidered in the wake of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, sparking alarm that the right to same-sex marriage could be revoked.

The GOP senators who have voiced support

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a swing-state conservative facing a highly competitive re-election fight this year, is the latest to come out in favor of the bill. He said in a statement, "Even though I feel the Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary, should it come before the Senate, I see no reason to oppose it."
  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told Axios, "I think there's a good chance there will be" 10 Republican votes for the bill when it comes to the Senate floor, adding that he's "voting for it."
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the bill's lone GOP sponsor, said her party has had a "sea-change" on the issue: "Virtually all of us have family members or friends who are gay, and I think that's changed the dialogue."
  • "I think it's possible we could get to 10," Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said, but he added, "We're not there at this point." His office told Axios said he plans to co-sponsor the bill.
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told CNN she made her support for gay marriage clear "years ago." Asked about the specific bill on Thursday, she told Axios, "I'm going to be taking a look at it."

The other side: Several Senate Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), told reporters they plan to vote no. Many others have said they still need more time to consider the legislation.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he hasn't reviewed the legislation but said there is "no urgency" to codifying gay marriage.
  • "I just haven't looked at it, haven't thought about it. ... I won't comment on it until I've taken a look at the legislation," said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
  • Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) all told Axios on Thursday they have yet to read the bill.

Between the lines: One senior Senate GOP aide told Axios that Senate Republicans by and large support gay marriage in principle, but that many are rankled by what they see as a political tactic by Democrats and don’t want to burn valuable floor time on what is, in their minds, a non-issue.

  • Many also have to grapple with the divide in public opinion between their conservative base and the broader public, which overwhelmingly supports gay marriage.
  • Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters he thinks it's possible for the bill to get 10 GOP votes, but that "our members are, I think, not ... talking about it too much until it becomes an issue that they have to deal with."
  • "I think people are probably thinking about it," he added.

The big picture: Almost 50 House Republicans joined Democrats on Tuesday to pass the legislation, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages if they were valid in the states they were performed.

  • The bill would also codify the right to interracial marriage.
  • Several members of GOP leadership voted in support of the legislation, including House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), as well as Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.

Go deeper: GOP faces conscience vote on marriage equality

Editor's note: This newsletter has been corrected to reflect that Sen. Richard Burr represents North Carolina, not Florida.

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