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Senate punts on same-sex marriage vote until after midterms

The Respect for Marriage Act would enshrine federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act

Supporters of same-sex marriage, including Zachary Nessel, 12, of Plymouth, Mich., hold up a giant flag in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington on April 28, 2015. (Allison Shelley for The Washington Post)

The Senate will delay voting on a measure to protect same-sex marriage until after November’s midterm elections as Republican support for the measure remains uncertain, lawmakers announced Thursday.

The decision to hold off on a vote came after weeks of bipartisan negotiations where a small group of senators had been working to alleviate the concerns of Republican senators in an attempt to persuade them to back the legislation. Still, negotiators were optimistic of the bill’s final passage.

“I think we’re in very good shape and this bill is going to pass,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters.

The Respect for Marriage Act would enshrine federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes marriages in the United States as between one man and one woman.

But the prospect of a vote less than two months from the midterm elections, in which control of the Senate is at stake, left some Republicans skittish about taking a position on the legislation.

“I presume that’s the reason for the delay,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Thursday.

Collins and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) have been working alongside Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) to find 10 Republican votes necessary for it to pass.

“My personal preference is to put everyone on the record before the November elections but I understand the decisions that are made about when the prospects are best for passing the measure,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “I want a law, not just a bill.”

Some Republicans said they were unwilling to support the bill unless it included more airtight protections for religious liberty and clarification that the law would not legalize polygamy.

“We’ve asked Leader Schumer for additional time and we appreciate he has agreed,” the bipartisan group said in a joint statement. “We are confident that when our legislation comes to the Senate floor for a vote, we will have the bipartisan support to pass the bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a statement said he is “extremely disappointed” that the measure doesn’t have enough Republican support, but said that he is “100 percent committed to holding a vote on the legislation this year.”

Two Republican senators in tight reelection battles would have had to vote on the issue: Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). Johnson had said in a statement earlier this summer that he saw no reason to oppose the measure but has since backtracked, saying this month that he is concerned about religious protections.

“They shouldn’t rush it; it’s not ready,” Johnson said Thursday.

The group of negotiators reached agreement on how to address Republican concerns and disseminated the new text Thursday afternoon to the GOP lawmakers considering voting for the legislation. But ultimately, the group decided that there wasn’t enough time in the waning days of the legislative session ahead of the midterms to push a vote. It would have had to take place next week to accommodate the other work the Senate must finish.

“Until people could have a chance to vet the language, it was tough for them to give us a definitive answer,” Portman said.

But Portman, who is retiring at the end of his term this year, acknowledged that the bill would probably get more Republican support in the lame duck session when Republicans wouldn’t have to face voters.

“It takes a lot of the political sting out of it,” he said.

Support for same-sex marriage continues to grow, with a record 70 percent of respondents in a recent Gallup survey saying they support it. But the conservative base is less supportive, and Republicans are wary of suppressing their motivation to vote.

The push to codify same-sex marriage became more urgent to liberals after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, motivating Democrats to hold a vote on the issue and protect the right from future challenges.

The House of Representatives passed the measure with the support of all Democrats and 47 Republicans in July.

“We believe the Senate should find to find consensus just as the American people have,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday, without putting pressuring the Senate to act on a quicker timeline.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.