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Report: Ron Johnson says he may not support bill protecting same-sex marriage

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After saying he had “no reason to oppose” legislation recognizing same-sex marriage at the federal level, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson now says he may not vote in favor of the measure, according to a new report.

“I’ve never said I would support it,” the Oshkosh Republican reportedly told Axios. “I said I didn’t see a reason to oppose it.”

Besides voting for or against the bill, Johnson can also vote “present” or not show up to vote.

Johnson’s comments came as senators consider amending the bill to provide “more clarity that the legislation would not take away any religious liberty or conscience protections,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office told Axios.

The bill would need 60 votes to clear the U.S. Senate, and the chamber is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. One of the bill’s conservative supporters, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told Axios he didn’t think the U.S. Senate could pass the measure in its current form.

“You can never trust @SenRonJohnson,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, said on Twitter. “He plays games by supporting things and then opposing, playing semantical games and in general, representing the most extreme elements of his party as well as the wealthy and special interests.”

The bill would require the federal government to recognize marriages that are valid in the state where it was performed. The measure would also repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman and allowed states to ban same-sex marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law, which was signed in 1996 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, but it remains on the books.

The legislation already passed the House of Representative with all of Wisconsin’s Democratic representatives as well as Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, of Janesville, voting in favor. But an amended bill would have to return to the House for approval.

Democrats introduced the bill in fear that the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade in June, could overturn other precedential cases that rely on the right to privacy found in the U.S. Constitution. Democrats also introduced a bill to protect access to contraceptives, which is currently protected under another U.S. Supreme Court decision that high court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his desire to review.

Baldwin, D-Madison, the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate, has largely driven the U.S. Senate effort to bring Republicans on board to pass the legislation. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, have signed onto the measure as co-sponsors.

“Plain and simple: if it doesn’t support his own self-interests and his bottom line, you can’t count on Ron Johnson to support it,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who became the presumptive Democratic U.S. Senate nominee after his top Democratic opponents dropped out last week.

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