Are there 10 Senate Republican votes to pass the House's gay marriage bill?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

I was skeptical yesterday that they can get to 10. Senate Democrats were skeptical too, as Dick Durbin speculated they might not even bring the House bill up for a vote due to the jam-packed Senate legislative calendar this summer.


Which would be political malpractice, if so. Dems are on the right side of a 71 percent issue here; even if the House bill is doomed to be filibustered by the Senate GOP, it’d be useful for the party to have that filibuster on the record. That’s something Democrats can show swing voters as evidence that Republicans are out of step with them on cultural matters and that electing a GOP majority this fall will lead to backsliding on gay rights. In fact, notes Tim Miller, yesterday’s vote has already paid dividends for Dems insofar as Rep. Ted Budd, the GOP nominee for Senate in North Carolina, voted against it. “That is…not a winner in Charlotte, let me tell you,” Miller says. “Will it be the #1 voting issue in NC? No. But it could be part of a broader campaign to demonstrate how radical the GOP is.”

Chuck Schumer isn’t good at politics but even he’s capable of figuring that out, which is why he announced this morning that he wants a vote on the House bill.

He didn’t say there will be a vote on the House bill, do note. But he wants one and he and Susan Collins are trying to line up 10 GOP votes in favor, as if they stand a chance of making that happen.


Or do they?

Collins is the only confirmed supporter of the bill among Republicans so far but it’s a cinch that Lisa Murkowski, who needs Democratic voters in her Senate race in Alaska, will come along too. Are there others? There are, it turns out. Rob Portman, who’s retiring in January, is in:

Thom Tillis, who represents purplish North Carolina and won’t face voters again until 2026, is also in:

Even John Thune(!), who may one day succeed McConnell as caucus leader, is taking a look:


Last month Thune won his Senate primary with 72 percent of the vote despite animosity from Trump over his opposition to the “stop the steal” push. He’ll win in a waltz in deep-red South Dakota this fall, then won’t face reelection again until 2028. This is essentially a “free” vote for him, in other words. Maybe Thune will view the bill as a brand-building exercise in the race to succeed McConnell, as it’s good to have a caucus leader who’s not viewed suspiciously by swing voters.

Even if Thune eventually votes no, four solid “yes” votes out of the gate is an encouraging start. If Tillis is voting yes, his retiring colleague from North Carolina, Richard Burr, has no reason not to do so as well. Roy Blunt of Missouri is also retiring this year and could support the legislation without penalty. Mitt Romney got cover to vote yes last night when the entire Utah Republican House delegation surprisingly voted in favor of the House bill. And Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia tends to vote moderately and isn’t up for reelection for another four years.

If those four come through, suddenly there are eight Republicans in favor. And there are plausible options to get two more among Bill Cassidy, who voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial; Pat Toomey, who did likewise and is retiring; and Todd Young, who just won his Senate primary in Indiana running unopposed. All three of them voted for the Senate gun bill, arguably a more contentious issue at this point than gay marriage is.


And what about Joni Ernst?

Bottom line: This bill really does have a chance of passing the Senate.

Cassidy complained yesterday that the House legislation is a “pure messaging bill” since gay marriage is now “obviously settled law.” Eh, not really. Three of the justices who dissented from the Obergefell decision finding that gays have a constitutional right to marry are still on the Court — Thomas, Alito, and John Roberts. They’ve since been joined by the three conservative Trump appointees. In his Dobbs concurrence, Thomas explicitly called for revisiting the Obergefell case. And although Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs made clear that the Court’s ruling on abortion shouldn’t be read as calling into question any other precedent, the Court’s analysis of substantive due process in that case undermines Obergefell. If unwritten rights are protected by the Constitution only if they’re deeply rooted in America’s history and traditions, the right of gays to marry is plainly shaky.

So the House bill isn’t just a messaging bill. It’s an attempt by Congress to create a statutory right to gay marriage (via full faith and credit between the states) in case the three Obergefell dissenters find two more votes for their position on the current Court.


It’s more than just a messaging bill in another way too. Benjy Sarlin is correct that Republican legislators have ducked the issue of gay marriage throughout the Trump era. Since Obergefell was decided in 2015, the standard GOP position is Cassidy’s position, that the issue is now settled and they’d prefer not to have to talk about it, thanks. Republicans know that legal gay marriage is popular with most voters and not very popular with social conservatives, giving them a strong incentive to maintain strategic ambiguity. Dems have an incentive in ending that ambiguity, Sarlin writes:

What’s odd about this evolution, though, is that at no point during the long journey from Republicans warning that “activist judges” would destroy “traditional marriage” to the RNC tweeting Pride Month celebrations did the party ever acknowledge their position shifted. Few prominent Republicans explicitly said they had changed their mind from the Bush era. The national GOP platform still opposes gay marriage…

We’re now at an inflection point, though, after which it will no longer be possible to dismiss the issue as yesterday’s news. As the House GOP’s still-strong opposition to marriage equality confirms, there’s legitimate reason to question the assumption that gay marriage is a settled issue.

In addition to the court’s new makeup, politicians are returning to LGBT culture wars more than at any point since 2004, with fights over everything from transgender participation in sports to drag queen story hours. While there are legitimate policy challenges at play, the spirit of the debates has taken a turn, with anti-gay “groomer” slurs from the 1970s making a comeback.


If this issue really is “settled,” Sarlin argues, then Senate Republicans should have no difficulty voting for the House bill. It will pass overwhelmingly. If it doesn’t, then the issue isn’t settled. (House Republicans opposed yesterday’s bill by a margin of around four to one, in fact.) In which case it’s important for supporters of gay rights to pass this bill and settle it properly.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos