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Republican Sen. Rob Portman Cosponsoring Marriage Equality Bill

Senator Rob Portman

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the few Republicans to support LGBTQ+ rights, has announced he will cosponsor the Respect for Marriage Act, which would write equal marriage rights into federal law.

Portman, who has a gay son, first announced his support for marriage equality in 2013. He made his support for the Respect for Marriage Act clear by agreeing to cosponsor it in the Senate, Cleveland’s ABC affiliate reports.

The House passed the bill Tuesday by a margin of 267 to 157, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting for it. It is designed to maintain marriage equality even if the Supreme Court overturns the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which established equal marriage rights nationwide in 2015. In a concurring opinion when the court overturned the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said the justices should reverse Obergefell and certain other rulings on individual rights.

A case challenging marriage equality would have to come to the high court for that to happen, and there isn’t one currently in the lower courts, although anti-LGBTQ+ forces would certainly love to bring one. Portman said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Obergefell, his team told the Cleveland station, but he found it important to support the legislation. He said it sends an “important message,” CNN reports.

The bill would assure that all marriages recognized as valid in a couple’s home state would be considered valid by the U.S. government, no matter the race or gender of the spouses. It would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which has not been enforceable since the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in 2013 but remains on the books. DOMA denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to such marriages from other states.

And it would provide other legal safeguards by barring anyone acting under a state law from denying full faith and credit to a marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the spouses. The U.S. attorney general would have the power to enforce this, and anyone harmed by such a denial would have a right to sue.

In the Senate, the bill faces more barriers than in the House. The Senate has a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the Dems), and Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote. But under the Senate filibuster rule, it takes the votes of 60 senators to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the legislation itself. So unless the filibuster is lifted, 10 Republican senators must support the measure if it is to pass.

In addition to Portman, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is cosponsoring the bill, having introduced it along with Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Dianne Feinstein. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will most likely support it, CNN reports.

“I have suggested to others that not only would I like to see Roe, Casey, and Griswold on contraception codified, but I’ve also made clear my support for, for gay marriage years ago,” she told the network. “So I will look at what the House is doing and see what that might mean here on the Senate side.” Casey, like Roe, is a Supreme Court decision on abortion rights.

Another Senate Republican, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, told CNN he will probably support the bill. And just today, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin implied he will vote for it. “Even though I feel the Respect for Marriage Act is unnecessary, should it come before the Senate, I see no reason to oppose it,” he said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Johnson is considered vulnerable as he runs for reelection this year. His Democratic challenger will be chosen in a primary next month; the front-runners are Mandela Barnes, currently the state’s lieutenant governor, and Alex Lasry, who worked for President Obama.

Other Republican senators are opposed to the Respect for Marriage Act, undecided, or have yet to state a position, according to CNN, which has polled all 50.

Portman, first elected in 2010, is not seeking reelection this year. The candidates running to replace him are Republican J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, and Democrat Tim Ryan, currently a U.S. representative and strong LGBTQ+ ally.

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