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Democratic US Sen. Tammy Baldwin confident same-sex marriage bill will become law after Thanksgiving

Republican US Sen. Ron Johnson votes against advancing bill citing concern for religious liberty

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks in front of a U.S. flag background. Attendees can be seen in the foreground.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, during a campaign event before the midterm elections at North Division High School in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she expects legislation protecting same-sex marriages will be enacted into law after Thanksgiving.

The Respect for Marriage Act was advanced by the U.S. Senate Wednesday by a vote of 62 to 37, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats. The bill doesn’t force states to issue same-sex marriage licenses, but would require them to recognize those marriages performed in other states. It would also recognize same-sex marriages under federal law in regard to Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Baldwin is one of the lead sponsors of the bill. During a Friday appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show,” Baldwin said she and other supporters of the legislation worked with Republican senators on an amendment aimed at allaying concerns about religious liberty. She said the substitute language will likely be added to the bill in coming weeks.

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“And I feel that following Thanksgiving, we will be able to pass the Respect for Marriage Act into law,” Baldwin said.

Interest in the legislation increased after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. Critics of the decision noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence to the conservative majority’s opinion stated that other prior cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage in 2015, should be reconsidered. Thomas stated that the same legal principles that the court rejected when overturning Roe formed the basis of the Obergefell decision.

Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson voted against advancing the Respect for Marriage Act. In a press release from his office Wednesday, Johnson said the bill “is unnecessary as the Obergefell decision is settled law and has no chance of being overturned.”

“The Democrats have used this to create a state of fear over a settled issue in order to further divide Americans for their political benefit,” Johnson said.

In July he said he saw no reason to oppose the bill. But he later changed his position, telling a group of conservative voters in September his earlier comment was to get the media “off my back.”

On Wednesday, Johnson said the substitute amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t provide sufficient protection for those with strongly held religious believes and “leaves a lane open for discrimination by activist groups, state governments and the IRS.”

Baldwin said the amendment has been endorsed by religious groups like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the National Association of Evangelicals.

“He (Johnson) should pay close attention to the many religious institutions and organizations that have endorsed this legislation,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin notes that 35 states, including Wisconsin, have constitutional or statutory bans on same-sex marriage.

“Sadly, in 2006, Wisconsin voters voted in a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman,” said Baldwin. “And that would be the law of Wisconsin should Obergefell be overturned.”

The Respect for Marriage Act still needs final approval in the U.S. Senate and support from the U.S. House of Representatives before it can be signed by President Joe Biden.