Politics

Democrats Delay Senate Vote to Protect Gay Marriage as G.O.P. Balks

WASHINGTON — Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, said on Thursday that the Senate would postpone an expected vote on legislation to provide federal protections for same-sex marriage until after the midterm elections in November, amid dimming hopes of drawing enough Republican support to ensure its passage.

Leading proponents of the Respect for Marriage Act said that delaying action would increase their chance of getting the 10 Republican votes needed to push it through the evenly divided Senate, where 60 would be necessary to move it forward.

The decision to do so came as a relief to Republicans, the vast majority of whom oppose the measure and were worried that voting against it so close to the elections would alienate voters. It spared Republican senators in difficult re-election races a fraught choice between casting a vote that would anger the party’s conservative base and one that would sour independent voters.

Polls show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, but Republicans are split.

The abrupt change of plans was the latest surprising turn for the measure, which began as a messaging bill but morphed into a concerted legislative effort after an unexpected number of House Republicans voted for it.

“We’re very confident that the bill will pass,” Ms. Baldwin said on Thursday. “But we will need a little more time.”

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Some Democrats, however, said they were angry with the decision to wait.

“We need to vote on equal marriage today,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. “Every single member of Congress should be willing to go on the record. And if there are Republicans who don’t want to vote on that before the election, I assume it is because they are on the wrong side of history.”

The intense legislative push in the Senate began in July, after the House passed the same-sex marriage bill with 47 Republicans voting in favor. At the time, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said he was encouraged by the amount of G.O.P. support it garnered, and promised to work to find the necessary votes to move the measure past a filibuster and to a vote.

Ms. Baldwin expressed confidence that she could bring at least 10 Republicans on board, and said that she expected even more to vote in favor of the legislation when it came to the floor.

Democrats have been pressing to enact the legislation after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the nearly 50-year-old right to an abortion, and amid concerns that precedents protecting same-sex marriage rights could be the next to fall.

But the momentum on the issue faded as Democrats spent the final days before the August recess pushing through the Inflation Reduction Act, the core of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

And since returning to Washington last week, Republican senators have expressed concerns about whether the bill would violate the religious liberty of those who do not accept same-sex marriages as valid. The bill would require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, and mandate that same-sex spouses are given equal protections to heterosexual ones.

Mr. Schumer has been eager to hold a vote, even if only to put Republicans on the record voting against a broadly popular position on a social issue just weeks before the midterm elections.

He briefly floated the idea of linking the marriage equality legislation to a bill to fund the government that must pass by Sept. 30. And aides said Democrats on Thursday were considering moving to set up a floor vote next week on the marriage bill.

But Ms. Baldwin, who has been working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the legislation, demanded more time to find the Republican votes to pass the bill, rather than holding a vote this month in which it would fail at the hands of the G.O.P.

“I think we’re in very good shape,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the Republicans involved in the negotiations. “This bill is going to pass. I think we’ve managed to thread the needle on the religious liberty concerns. We’ve taken a lot of input.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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