WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's vote on a bill to codify same-sex marriage has been in question since the Wisconsin Republican initially said he saw "no reason to oppose" the legislation.
But speaking at a public meeting in Hartford last week, the Oshkosh Republican was definitive — saying he would not support the Respect for Marriage Act in its current form and indicating he believes the Supreme Court case giving same-sex couples the right to marry was "wrongly decided."
He put out his July statement saying he wouldn't oppose the legislation, he said, to get the press "off my backs."
“I would not support it in its current state," Johnson said at a Common Sense Citizens of Washington County meeting Thursday after reiterating his concerns about religious liberties, according to a recording obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"But at the same time I don’t want to see millions of lives disrupted either. To me, that was a wound that was healed. Let it go, OK. Move on, OK.”
Ron Johnson says Obergefell v. Hodges ruling on same-sex marriage 'wrongly decided'
Johnson has maintained that he does not think a bill codifying same-sex marriage is necessary. The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to abortion, he's said, will not impact same-sex marriage.
Still, Democrats see the measure as pertinent after Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should "reconsider" its previous due process precedents, including the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry.
In his comments in Hartford, Johnson said Thomas was "probably right" that the Obergefell decision was wrong.
“Now, completely different than Roe v. Wade," Johnson said of Obergefell. "Roe v. Wade needed to be overturned to protect people in the future. Stare decisis is really powerful when, if the Supreme Court were to overrule a previous decision, even if it’s wrongly decided — that’s kind of how this all came up."
"Because Justice Thomas is probably right that it was wrongly decided," Johnson added. "But that’s a different issue as to whether or not the Supreme Court would overturn it. They never will. I do not see any scenario.”
(Stare decisis refers to legal precedent.)
Johnson also bemoaned reporters' questions about whether he would support the bill.
“So you just get hounded on this crap, right?" Johnson said. "So just to get them off my backs, I wrote a press release, and I said I always supported civil unions. Never felt that we needed to do anything other than that."
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin is trying to get Republican support
The comments offered the most clarity yet on Johnson's position on the Respect for Marriage Act as a bipartisan group of senators led by Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin work to win enough Republican support to pass the measure, which could see a vote on the Senate floor as soon as this month.
Baldwin and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins are considering adding language to the legislation "that provides more clarity about what the legislation does not do" in order to alleviate Republican concerns.
In an op-ed published in the Washington Post Tuesday, the pair wrote that the legislation "leaves intact religious liberties and protections afforded to individuals and organizations under federal law." They also note the bill would not legalize polygamous relationships or marriages, a concern raised by Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher.
Johnson claims same-sex marriage 'will never be overturned,' says it's not an issue
Meanwhile, Johnson is working with other senators in the Republican caucus on their own amendment to address their concerns.
"We’re going to have just a smokin' amendment that is going to protect religious liberty, and we’ll see where it goes from there," Johnson said at last week's meeting.
Johnson in an interview with WISN-TV (Channel 12) last month noted his work on the amendment but again said the decision on same-sex marriage "will never be overturned."
"I do not see the Supreme Court overturning that because that would impact millions of people that have been, you know, acted on that," Johnson told the station.
Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning in a statement said the senator's comments were not news. Regarding Johnson saying Justice Thomas was "probably right" that Obergefell was wrongly decided, Henning said "the senator has faith in Justice Thomas’ judgement."
"The Democrats are using this to create a state of fear over a settled issue in order to further divide Americans for their political benefit," Henning said.
Baldwin's office in a Wednesday statement said the Democratic senator would continue to work to get Republican support for the Respect for Marriage Act.
Last Thursday, Johnson doubled down on saying the legislation was divisive and criticized Baldwin and Democrats for bringing it up.
“We’ve got enough problems. We have enough things to divide this nation. Let’s not drag that back up," Johnson said. "So I’m not happy with the Baldwins of the world who are just opening that wound and opening that debate."
"We need to solve the whole abortion issue, and that’s going to take probably years to come up with what the societal consensus is there, OK?"
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Ron Johnson won't support same-sex marriage bill in current form