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Schumer seeks enough GOP votes to pass same-sex marriage bill

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks with reporters on July 19. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that he is working to get sufficient Republican support for the Senate to pass a bill that would federally protect same-sex marriages.

Republican support for the measure, for which Senate sponsors include Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), appeared to be growing Wednesday, a day after the House passed a bill with the support of 47 Republicans.

“I was really impressed by how much bipartisan support it got in the House,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. “I want to bring this bill to the floor, and we’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) expressed his support Wednesday, telling reporters, “I think it’s the right policy, and I think it’s the right message to send.” An aide said the senator, who is retiring at the end of this session, plans to co-sponsor the Senate bill.

In March 2013, Portman announced that he was a supporter of same-sex marriage, a surprise decision that he reached two years after his son, Will, told him that he was gay.

“It’s a change of heart from the position of a father,” Portman told Ohio reporters. “I think we should be allowing gay couples the joy and stability of marriage.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told CNN that he “probably will” support the legislation. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), on the other hand, told CNN that he would vote no on the bill, calling it a “stupid waste of time.”

For the bill to pass, Democrats will need to secure the votes of at least 10 Republicans. Most legislation in the evenly divided chamber needs 60 votes to advance.

Aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that President Biden wants a bill sent to his desk “swiftly.”

“He is … a proud champion of the right for people to marry whom they love and is grateful to see bipartisan support for that right,” Jean-Pierre said. “He believes it is nonnegotiable, and that the Senate should act swiftly to get this to the president’s desk. He wants to sign this. We need this legislation, and we urge Congress to move as quickly as possible.”

The White House had signaled strong support for the bill in a statement Tuesday ahead of the House vote.

“This legislation would secure marriage equality in the United States. The right to marriage confers vital legal protections, dignity, and full participation in our society. No person should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love, and every married couple in the United States deserves the security of knowing that their marriage will be defended and respected,” the White House statement says. “H.R. 8404 would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, an unconstitutional and discriminatory law, and would enshrine the right to Federal recognition of marriage for same-sex and interracial couples. This legislation would strengthen civil rights, and ensure that the promise of equality is not denied to families across the country.”

The House voted Tuesday in response to an opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last month in which he openly questioned whether the court “should reconsider” rulings that guaranteed access to birth control and same-sex couples’ right to marriage — two issues that many Americans have viewed as settled law.

Tuesday’s bipartisan vote was a striking evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage for members of both parties. Just a decade ago, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden was castigated for announcing his support for same-sex marriage before the sitting president, Barack Obama, had announced his own views on the issue. More than a decade before that, Biden helped pass the Defense of Marriage Act in the Senate, while House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) joined 116 Democrats supporting it in the House.

Thomas’s opinion opened the door for Democrats to force Republicans to take a stand on the issue, and Republicans split into competing camps over the onetime hot-button issue as Democrats were completely unified in protecting a right that the Supreme Court had ruled on seven years ago. While 47 House Republicans voted for the measure, 157 GOP members voted against it, though many said it was not because of opposition to the bill but because Democrats were using it as a wedge issue.

Paul Kane and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.