Republican Senator Ron Johnson, facing a tough reelection contest in November, said during a recent meeting with constituents that he opposes a bill to codify same-sex marriage rights into federal law as the Senate Democratic leadership plans to hold a vote in the coming weeks, warning the protections are under threat from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
Speaking at a Common Sense Citizens of Washington County meeting last week, Johnson said his comment in July signaling that he saw “no reason to oppose” the Respect for Marriage Act was issued just to get reporters to stop pressing him.
“I would not support it in its current state,” Johnson said at the meeting, according to audio obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and posted online September 7 by the Heartland Signal.
The Wisconsin Republican went on to express his view that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “is probably right” that Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark 2015 ruling that requires states to license same-sex marriages, was “wrongly decided.”
In his concurring opinion in the June decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Thomas suggested the Supreme Court should revisit and potentially overturn Obergefell and other rulings, prompting Democrats to respond with legislation aimed at shielding same-sex marriage rights.
Johnson’s recent remarks also included a swipe at Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly gay person to be elected to the U.S. Senate and the lawmaker leading efforts to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which will need at least 10 Republican votes to get through the upper chamber.
The House passed the measure in July with the support of 47 Republicans.
“I’m not happy with the Baldwins of the world who are just opening that wound and opening that debate,” Johnson complained on September 8.
Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Johnson’s Democratic challenger in the key battleground state, tweeted in response that the Republican incumbent is “a disgrace and doesn’t believe in protecting our rights and freedoms.”
“There you have it,” Barnes wrote. “Ron Johnson says the 2015 same-sex marriage ruling was wrongly decided and that he won’t support the same-sex marriage bill … He’s unfit for public office.”
Johnson’s comments surfaced on September 7 as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that “a vote on marriage equality will happen on the Senate floor in the coming weeks” as a bipartisan group of lawmakers negotiates the bill’s final details.
The Associated Press reported that “to win over more Senate Republicans, negotiators are planning to introduce amendments aimed at addressing concerns from some about ‘religious liberty’ — the rights of religious institutions or religious business owners to oppose same-sex marriage, for example.”
“Supporters say such religious liberty is already enshrined in law, but new language would simply make that clear,” AP added. “Another proposed tweak to the bill would make clear that a marriage is between two people, an effort to ward off some far-right criticism that the legislation could endorse polygamy.”
There was initially some talk among Democrats of attaching the same-sex marriage bill to a must-pass spending measure, but that idea drew criticism from members of both parties and appears to be off the table.
Speaking to reporters on September 7, Baldwin expressed confidence that senators are “darn close” to 60 votes for the legislation and said she wants a vote “sooner rather than later.”