The Republican senator also told a local group he’s working on an amendment that could gut the law being proposed by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

It took a little under six weeks for Republican Sen. Ron Johnson to go from saying, “I see no reason to oppose” the Respect for Marriage Act to announcing his full opposition to the proposal to enshrine same-sex marriage into federal law—and even saying that the 2015 Supreme Court case legalizing gay marriage was “wrongly decided.” 

Johnson told a Hartford audience last week that his July 21 statement—giving a vague but unmistakably positive view of the bill—was only given to get reporters “off my back.” Johnson also said he is working on an amendment that could be seen as a way to weaken the bill being proposed by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

His remarks to the group Common Sense Citizens of Washington County were recorded and first published Wednesday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“I would not support it in its current state,” Johnson said, criticizing Baldwin and others for seeking Republican support for the bill. “We’ve got enough problems. We have enough things to divide this nation. So I’m not happy with the Baldwins of the world who are just opening that wound and opening that debate.”

Baldwin and others have a sense of urgency about codifying same-sex marriage into law because the right to marry is currently upheld not by a statute, but by the US Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. In the June Dobbs decision that repealed a half-century of women’s health rights, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should also consider repealing other rights previously provided by the Court that had been considered settled law. Thomas specifically named cases that legalized same-sex marriage and Americans’ right to contraception.

Johnson defended his opposition to Baldwin’s bill by saying it was unnecessary, despite ample evidence to the contrary. 

Even though Roe v. Wade has been tossed into the judicial scrap heap and the court’s conservative justices sounded supportive about reconsidering Obergefell, Johnson doesn’t believe the justices would ever overturn the right to gay marriage. 

“I do not see the Supreme Court overturning [Obergefell] because that would impact millions of people that have been, you know, acted on that,” Johnson told WISN-TV last month, without noting the millions of women impacted by the repeal of Roe.

Johnson also said he is working on a “smokin’ amendment to protect religious liberty.” Baldwin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) addressed the religious liberty concerns in a column published Tuesday in the Washington Post.

“Our bipartisan legislation leaves intact religious liberties and protections afforded to individuals and organizations under federal law,” they wrote. “The Respect for Marriage Act … will not take away or alter any religious liberty or conscience protections.”

The measure passed the House in July, with 47 Republicans joining all 220 Democrats voting in favor. Wisconsin Republican US Reps. Tom Tiffany, Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, and Scott Fitzgerald voted against the Respect for Marriage Act.

If Baldwin and Collins want the legislation to come to the Senate floor for a vote this month and overcome a filibuster, they will need to find at least 10 Republicans with more definitive signs of support than what Johnson provided less than six weeks ago.