Susan Collins: Democrats’ Climate Deal May Doom Bipartisan Efforts On Same-Sex Marriage

The GOP senator said the surprise move by Democrats could make it harder to convince fellow Republicans to get on board.
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WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins, one of a handful of GOP senators working to garner support in her party for a bill to codify gay marriage, said the Democrats’ surprise embrace of a tax and climate change bill made her job much harder.

“I just think the timing could not have been worse and it came totally out of the blue,” the Maine senator told HuffPost Thursday about Senate Democrats’ unveiling of their bill to raise taxes on some companies, boost IRS enforcement and spend the resulting money to fund anti-climate change efforts.

The news that West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) had arrived at an agreement broke like a thunderclap over official Washington early Wednesday night. The bill still faces hurdles, including ensuring all Senate Democrats are on board and will be available to vote on it when it comes to the floor. But if Democrats pull it off, it could be a big political victory for the party and the White House.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), seen here on the right talking to fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), said the news that Democrats are making progress on a tax and climate change bill hurt bipartisan efforts to codify gay marriage, which she and Murkowski support.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), seen here on the right talking to fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), said the news that Democrats are making progress on a tax and climate change bill hurt bipartisan efforts to codify gay marriage, which she and Murkowski support.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

Still, Collins warned that the manner in which that victory was secured, where it appeared Democrats kept Manchin and Schumer’s negotiations under wraps until a separate bipartisan computer chip production incentive bill was passed by the Senate, hurt the effort to gather support among Republicans to bring the gay marriage bill to the floor.

“After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPs bill, it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are under way,” she said.

The bill to codify gay marriage, which would also formally repeal a 1996 law overturned by the U.S Supreme Court in the Obergefell decision, passed the House of Representatives with the support of 47 Republicans on July 19.

“I just think the timing could not have been worse and it came totally out of the blue.”

- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)

While Republicans had been expected to filibuster the bill in the Senate, the support of four GOP senators — Collins, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis — raised the prospect 10 Republicans might be able to be brought along. That, along with all 50 Democratic votes, would break a filibuster and allow the bill to be passed and sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

But with time dwindling for the Senate before they leave for the August recess and a new, concerted lobbying effort by conservative organizations, any Senate consideration looks likely to be pushed into the fall campaign season at best.

Asked if she thought the bill would have to wait now until the fall, Collins said, “I don’t know and I’m going to continue to work for support for the bill.”

Among the conservative groups pushing Senate Republicans to oppose the bill are the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Center, which have focused on arguments the bill would undermine religious freedom and result in the legalization of things like polygamy and child marriages.

Same-sex marriage supporters say those concerns are bogus.

“The idea that somehow this tramples on religious liberties is fundamentally false because it’s not actually changing the status quo,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.

In a four-page question-and-answer document, the Heritage Foundation said the bill was a “gratuitous swipe at the millions of Americans who believe in man-woman marriage, and disproportionately consist of people guided on this question by their faith.”

It also said if only one state legally recognized polygamy, polyamory, child marriage or arranged marriage, then other states must recognize those unions too and “the federal government must automatically recognize it for all federal purposes, including tax deductions, welfare benefits, immigration status and federal employee benefits.”

Warbelow said that because the bill is limited to protecting marriages from discrimination based only on sex, race, ethnicity and national origin, prohibitions against other types of unions would remain in place.

“Every time there has been progress made on LGBTQ issues, opponents have said, 'If you allow X to happen, then inevitably Y will happen,' when those things are completely unrelated.”

- Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign

Roger Severino, the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for domestic policy, said radical activists are “manufacturing a phantom crisis” because the Supreme Court has given no indication it plans to overturn a 2015 decision recognizing the right to same-sex marriage.

“Instead of criticizing those who point out how the hastily written legislation actually works, perhaps they should ask why the liberals in Congress drafted those provisions in the first place,” he said in a statement to HuffPost.

HRC’s Warbelow said the objections are familiar.

“Every time there has been progress made on LGBTQ issues, opponents have said, ‘If you allow X to happen, then inevitably Y will happen,’ when those things are completely unrelated,” she said.

“We have not, in fact, ever seen that to be true.”

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