Gay marriage legislation is one of several major issues up in the air for the Senate as it returns from its August recess Tuesday with midterm elections less than two months away.
The House of Representatives passed a bill to codify same-sex marriage rights in July after Justice Clarence Thomas raised questions about Supreme Court precedent on gay marriage in an opinion this spring. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed that his chamber will also vote on same-sex marriage.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., one of the chief co-sponsors of the Senate's gay marriage bill, told PBS Wisconsin in late July she hopes a vote will happen in "early September." But the Senate faces a packed schedule before the midterm elections.
Among the major items for lawmakers are a likely continuing resolution to fund the government, a military funding bill, a potential vote on changes to the Electoral Count Act, judicial nominations and more.
The Senate's first week back already includes two federal appeals court judge nominations, which suck up significant floor time.
Getting enough bipartisan support to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate is also a hurdle for the bill, officially titled the "Respect for Marriage Act." Senators Rob Portman. R-Ohio, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, were original co-sponsors of it with Baldwin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
One Senate GOP aide said there may be some members who support gay marriage legislation but "who feel burned by the Schumer/Manchin deal," and thus may become less cooperative with Democrats. But another Senate Republican aide familiar with discussions on the gay marriage bill predicted supporters will not have any problem finding 10 GOP votes for the bill to reach the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
However, the second GOP aide said, that could be a reason for Schumer to wait until after the general election before calling a vote to avoid giving vulnerable Republicans a chance to vote in support of gay marriage legislation.
"They're clearly using this as a political wedge issue. They're using this as a messaging issue," the GOP aide familiar with the discussions said.
Schumer, for his part, has remained noncommittal on when the Senate will vote on marriage equality. Discussing priorities for the upcoming work period, he told reporters last month that little will trump judicial confirmations.
"We will have a vote on marriage equality," Schumer said at a press conference before the August recess. "Not giving you a timetable. We'll come back in September. There's a whole lot to do. And one of the important things we have to do is judges. And, as you know, court of appeals judges take 30 hours each. We just, I just filed for two of them to be – do first thing when we came back."
"There's a lot of things we need to get done," Schumer added. "I'm going to try to get as much of it done as we can."
Also among the things Congress will have to address when it returns is a new request Friday from President Biden for $47.1 billion in funding for COVID-19 and monkeypox, aid to Ukraine and managing domestic natural disasters.