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Romney is still undecided on the Senate’s same-sex marriage equality vote

FILE - Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives to watch a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy live-streamed into the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, March 16, 2022.
Alex Brandon
AP, file
FILE - Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives at U.S. Capitol, in Washington, March 16, 2022.

The Senate will delay its expected vote on the Respect for Marriage Act until after the November midterm elections as negotiators work to shore up Republican support. Some in the GOP have raised concerns about whether the bill protects religious rights. Back in July, all of Utah’s House delegation, as well as several other House Republicans, supported the act.

The bill would federally recognize marriage equality, like same-sex and interracial marriage. It does so by overturning the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from acknowledging same-sex marriages under state law. The law prevented same-sex spouses from gaining benefits that heterosexual couples have access to, such as Social Security survivor benefits.

The Respect for Marriage Act also requires the recognition of inter-state marriages and prohibits anyone working in a state or federal capacity from denying someone the right to marry on the basis of “sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin of those individuals.”

When the legislation first passed in the House, Sen. Mitt Romney told KUER's Washington D.C. partner Matt Laslo that the Senate would “take a look” at the bill. But he didn’t believe it was necessary since marriage equality was decided by the courts and considered a protected right under the Constitution.

Romney hasn’t said publicly if he plans to support the bill or not. However, he recently said he is working on the “religious liberty issue” with other senators and “discussing it with the people who are leading the bill.”

When asked by another D.C. reporter what it would take for him to cast a “yes” vote, Romney stayed tight-lipped.

“I’m working on that [religious liberty] topic and we’ll see if we make sufficient progress or not,” Romney replied.

The senator's team sent KUER a tweet from a Huffington Post reporter as an official statement that said he is currently undecided on the bill.

“I am participating in talks on that [bill] and there's been back and forth. We haven't reached a resolution to that. And I've offered amendments, other people have as well,” the tweet quoting Romney read.

Sen. Mike Lee did not return KUER’s request for comment on the bill.

While same-sex marriage is the law of the land, Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah said that a precedent has been set.

The move to codify marriage equality became a congressional priority after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson’s Health Organization case. Thomas hinted that the court should reconsider other cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

“Justice Thomas sent an ominous warning,” said Williams. “Utah gay parents know what's at risk here, and it is essential that we take Justice Thomas seriously.”

Williams was thrilled when Congress introduced the Respect for Marriage Act and said he broke down in tears when he discovered how Utah’s GOP representatives voted.

But now his eyes are on Sens. Lee and Romney to help get the bill signed into law. Democrats can count on 50 votes in the Senate but need 60 to overcome a filibuster and pass the legislation. Williams hopes Utah’s senators will follow in their colleagues' footsteps.

“The opportunity now is to seize the moment and solidify the freedom for all Americans and all Utahns to marry and build families with those whom we love,” Williams said.

Updated: September 15, 2022 at 1:42 PM MDT
Updated with the announcement that the Senate vote on the Respect for Marriage Act will be delayed until after the midterm elections.
Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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