Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, the first out member of the U.S. Senate, confronted Sen. Marco Rubio Wednesday after he called the Respect for Marriage Act a “stupid waste of time.”
Rubio, a Republican from Florida, made the remark to CNN while getting on an elevator, but Baldwin overheard him. “You probably would have loved to be on the elevator to see the exchange after,” Baldwin told the network Thursday.
“I said that ‘the recent Supreme Court decision eroded a constitutional right to privacy. There’s a whole bunch of cases that have been decided based on a constitutional right to privacy that are in jeopardy,’ which he disagrees with. And anyways, I said we’ll be talking some more,” she said. She did not reveal what Rubio said in response.
The Respect for Marriage Act would write marriage equality into U.S. law, a safeguard in case the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling that established equal marriage rights nationwide. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion when the court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights ruling, said that Obergefell and several other cases on individual rights were wrongly decided and should be revisited.
The Respect for Marriage Act was passed by the U.S. House Tuesday and is now pending in the Senate. It would assure that the federal government recognizes all valid marriages, no matter the gender or race of the spouses, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which remains on the books although unenforceable due to a 2013 Supreme Court decision. DOMA denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to marriages performed in other states.
And the new legislation 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.
Baldwin, a lesbian, introduced the bill in the Senate along with a fellow Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, and a Republican colleague, Susan Collins of Maine. The legislation passed the House with bipartisan support, 47 Republicans joining all Democrats, but it may have a harder time in the Senate.
That chamber has a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats (including two independents allied with them), with Vice President Kamala Harris having the power to break a tie. However, the bill may run afoul of the filibuster rule, under which it takes the votes of 60 senators to end debate on an issue and move to a vote on the legislation itself. The filibuster can be lifted for certain bills.
Baldwin told CNN she is confident that 10 Republicans will join Democrats in supporting the Respect for Marriage Act. So far Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has agreed to cosponsor it along with Collins, and three other Republicans are likely yes votes: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Baldwin’s fellow Wisconsin senator, Ron Johnson. Others are opposed or undecided, or have not made their positions known.
Rubio is up for reelection this year. His Democratic opponent is Val Demings, currently a U.S. representative and a strong LGBTQ+ ally.