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US Sen. Ron Johnson says he won’t block ‘unnecessary’ Respect for Marriage Act

Legislation to protect same-sex marriage needs Republican support to pass Senate

Senator Ron Johnson
Steve Helber/AP Photo

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says he will not oppose legislation to codify federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage.

The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act this week in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The court used the finding of a right to privacy in its 1972 abortion decision to support future decisions, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, one of the new bill’s Senate sponsors, says the legislation is needed after Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his own written Supreme Court opinion that overturning Roe meant that other landmark court decisions including Obergefell v. Hodges should also be reconsidered.

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If passed, the new law would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. That law defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, and was enacted in 1996 in response to growing push at the time for marriage equality from gay rights activists.

The court’s decision in Obergefell invalidated DOMA, establishing the right for same-sex couples to marry.

The law will need to overcome a potential Republican filibuster to pass in the Senate, which means it will need at least 60 votes to proceed. Democrats hold 50 seats in the U.S. Senate. Johnson, a conservative who is seeking reelection in the fall, had declined to give reporters his position earlier this week.

In a new statement, he said he would not block the legislation.

“Prior to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision on gay marriage I supported civil unions,” Johnson stated. “After Obergefell, I considered the issue settled.”

Johnson and some other Republicans argue that concerns over the court potentially taking up issues like same-sex marriage or access to contraception are overblown. But those worried the court will act on those issues point not just to Thomas’s statements, but also to the legal arguments focused on a fundamental right to privacy that are at the heart of those decisions.

“Unlike Roe v. Wade, I do not see any scenario in which the Supreme Court would overturn Obergefell,” Johnson stated. “The Respect for Marriage Act is another example of Democrats creating a state of fear over an issue in order to further divide Americans for their political benefit.”

But the Republican senator said that while he feels “the Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary, should it come before the Senate, I see no reason to oppose it.”

Baldwin introduced the bill in the Senate. She said earlier this week that she is very concerned the court could challenge the right to same-sex and interracial marriage.

“Those cases were indeed decided with similar reasoning to Roe v. Wade,” she said. “And so we need to protect these rights.”

Along with Johnson, four other Republicans have stated or implied they would support the legislation, according to CNN. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is one of the cosponsors.

In the House, the legislation passed by a vote of 267-157, with 47 Republicans voting yes. All of Wisconsin’s Democratic legislators supported the bill. U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil of Janesville was the only member of the state’s Republican delegation to vote in favor of the law.

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