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The Same-Sex Marriage Bill

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Like you may have, I raised my eyebrow when I heard the same-sex marriage bill is being postponed until after the November elections. But Grace Segers at The New Republic provides some useful context as to what’s going on here:

But wait! Why not just hold the vote before the election, and then bring it up for a second vote afterward? Well, there are several problems with that strategy. Number one: The bipartisan group asked Schumer for more time, so if he overruled them and brought it up for a vote anyway, that would seriously anger Republicans and put an end to any opportunity to garner the 10 necessary votes before the election. Number two: Republicans wouldn’t just turn around after the election and vote for the bill during the lame duck session after Democrats forced them to take a difficult vote for political reasons.

“Leader Schumer is extremely disappointed that there aren’t 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to vote yes on marriage equality legislation at this time,” said Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesperson, in a statement. “Because Leader Schumer’s main objective is to pass this important legislation, he will adhere to the bipartisan group of Senators’ request to delay floor action, and he is 100 percent committed to holding a vote on the legislation this year before Justice Thomas has a chance to make good on his threat to overturn Obergefell. Just like he has persisted for the last two years on legislation that no one thought could pass, Leader Schumer will not give up and will hold the bipartisan group to their promise that the votes to pass this marriage equality legislation will be there after the election.”

Portman told reporters on Thursday that the decision to punt the vote “means Democrats want to get results.” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he preferred “to put everyone on the record” but understood the realities of politics. “I understand the decisions that are made about when the prospects are best for passing the measure. I want a law, not just a bill,” Blumenthal said.

The group plans to introduce language protecting religious liberty, which its Republican co-sponsors say will help it to pick up more votes. And doing something in good faith—pushing the deadline back to give Republicans political cover—shows the group’s seriousness. A senior Republican aide told me that it was likely the bill would pick up more votes after the election.

There’s actually some precedent for this kind of political maneuvering. Congress passed the bill repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the lame duck session after the 2010 midterm elections, in which Democrats lost the House by a significant margin. An effort to repeal the policy had failed to garner sufficient votes earlier that year.

We’ll see–it’s awful hard to get human rights legislation passed in a countermajortarian body where one political party doesn’t believe in human rights. Maybe it works. But it was pretty clearly a dead letter bill before November.

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