Politics

Sen. Ron Johnson signals opposition to marriage equality bill. Could this spell doom?

Sen. Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron JohnsonPhoto: Shutterstock

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is signaling that he may vote against the Respect for Marriage Act next month, possibly putting the legislation in peril.

Speaking at the Kenosha County Fair last week, Johnson told reporters that he thinks the bill is “completely unnecessary” because he think that the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states will “never be overturned” because it “would impact millions of people.”

The Respect for Marriage Act would require state governments and the federal government to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed by all states. Proponents of the bill say it’s necessary if the Supreme Court overturns its previous decisions legalizing marriage rights like it did with the federal right to an abortion. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas even wrote in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization earlier this year that the Court should “reconsider” Obergefell in light of it overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Respect for Marriage Act got through the House of Representatives with all Democrats voting for it and most Republicans voting against it, but, as with most progressive legislation, the Senate is a bigger hurdle.

The bill needs 60 votes in the Senate to overcome the filibuster—10 have to be from Republicans—and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said she was confident she could find 10 Republicans to support the bill. In July, Sen. Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he will “not oppose” the bill and that he doesn’t “see any reason why I should oppose it,” which likely made him one of the Republicans Baldwin was counting on.

But now he’s changing his position. In addition to the comments he made at the Kenosha County Fair, he told WISN-TV this past Sunday that the Respect for Marriage Act is “opening old wounds.”

“This is just Democrats, you know, opening up a wound that had really healed,” he said. “I’ve always been supportive of civil unions. The Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage and it’s, ‘Okay that’s the decision. Let’s move on.'”

His words are similar to those used by some House Republicans to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that the bill is “simply the latest installment of the Democrats’ campaign to delegitimize and attempt to intimidate the United States Supreme Court” when leading Republican opposition to the bill.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that the Respect for Marriage Act is a “stupid waste of time.”

Other Republicans in the House and Senate have been more direct.

“I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that’s how God created it,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said before the vote.

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said last month in announcing he opposition to the bill. “That’s not just a biblical concept and a worldview concept, but that’s a historic concept, as well.”

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