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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Senate Republicans are too quiet on marriage equality

Will they or won’t they support marriage equality? That is the question facing Senate Republicans. Backers of the Senate version of the House’s Respect For Marriage Act think they are close to finding 10 Republican votes to make up the 60 votes needed to pass the measure and overcome a filibuster. But many Republicans have been very quiet about whether or not they support the bill. A common response is that they haven’t looked at the bill — a four-page document — yet. 

Republican Senators Susan Collins and Rob Portman have co-sponsored the bill. 

The time it’s taken just to confirm that eight more members of the GOP will vote yes on the measure is very much at odds with the lightning speed at which the House introduced and passed the bill. It aims to codify marriage equality for LGBTQ and interracial couples into law and would effectively cut off expected attempts to throw the U.S. back into darker times by outlawing marriages for some based on sexual orientation or race. 

The time it’s taken just to confirm that eight more members of the GOP will vote yes on the measure is very much at odds with the lightning speed at which the House introduced and passed the bill.

With 47 House Republicans voting in favor of the bill, it seems like conservative lawmakers have figured out something very important: They can’t be the party of family values and be in favor of taking away the right to be a family for many of their constituents at the same time. 

Now, we wait to see how many Senate Republicans have realized it too. 

As a journalist who has covered many similar pieces of legislation, this issue is also particularly personal. For many queer people, marriage isn’t even a goal. In many communities, it’s still something seen as what boring heteronormative suburban gays do. I say this as someone who does want to get married someday and carries an aching heart over the fact that marriage was legalized for me just as my last serious live-in relationship ended — and might be taken away again just as I’ve moved in with a new partner and am exploring domestic bliss once again. 

But regardless of whether it’s a knot you’d like to tie (or not), everyone from staunch Republican voters to anti-assimilationist queer activists agrees that it’s a right people should have. Marriage equality was never about assimilation — it was about putting an end to a separate-but-equal society in which only some people have fundamental rights, including financial security and protection and stability for children, while others are seen as lesser and undeserving of those same rights and relationship recognition. 

A majority of American voters across all political parties have supported equal marriage rights for same-sex couples since 2021, when the annual Gallup Values and Beliefs poll found 55% of Republicans, 73% of independents and 83% of Democrats saying same-sex marriages should be recognized under law. This year, Gallup reported that 71% — up from last year’s 70% — of Americans support marriage rights for LGBTQ people. It’s a number that has risen every year since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized it. It could explain why 47 Republican House representatives voted in favor of the Respect For Marriage Act in this era of hyper-partisanship and divisiveness over everything politics. 

Decades of advocacy and activism led to this moment: LGBTQ people are more visible and accepted across mainstream society than ever before, and marriage is a fundamental part of that. We are out and proud, able to live authentically at work, school and in communities without having to hide our partners and identities out of fear of repercussion. Another Gallup poll this year found that 7.1% of the U.S. population identify themselves as LGBTQ, with numbers increasing with each younger generation to the point where 1 in 5 members of Gen Z is out as LGBTQ. 

This visibility has led to increased discrimination. A 2022 report from GLAAD found that 70% of LGBTQ people reported that personal discrimination has risen over the past two years. Not to mention the dozens of discriminatory state laws proposed to shove LGBTQ youth into a closet they’ve never had to be in. But change is inevitably coming; when it comes to LGBTQ equality, the train has already left the station. 

The GOP claims to be for family values. LGBTQ people have families now. Families with kids.

LGBTQ people serve at every level of government from the federal Cabinet down. Transportation Secretary and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, campaigned openly and affectionately to help millions of people see how mainstream and likable gay couples can be. Buttigieg’s unspoken campaign slogan might as well have been, “We’re boring and suburban, just like you.” We’ve come far from the 2004 resignation of former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, who stepped down in brewing scandal and outing threats with a new phrase that quickly entered the discourse: “I am a gay American.” 

But the current conservative makeup of the Supreme Court threatens to stop the progress LGBTQ communities have fought hard for. When Justice Clarence Thomas said that the court should “reconsider” its ruling in cases like Obergefell, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry, and Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized LGBTQ intimacy, it sent such a panic throughout LGBTQ communites across the country. How could it not? After all, the nation had just watched the court decide to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion — despite a majority of Americans disagreeing with the move. 

To even “consider” overturning constitutional protections for the LGBTQ community would be out of step with not just what the majority of the American people want, including the majority of Republicans. But anything seems possible right now. 

Now is the time for Republican lawmakers to act. The GOP claims to be for family values. LGBTQ people have families now. Families with kids. How would a Wanda Sykes or a Neil Patrick Harris, much less the countless other LGBTQ parents across America, explain to their kids why the Supreme Court took their parents’ marriage away and why the government didn’t do anything to stop it? When did breaking up families become a mandate for the party of family values? These questions should haunt the 157 Republicans in the House who voted against the Respect For Marriage Act, and it should give pause to the senators poised to cast their own votes. Republican voters made it clear that they support marriage equality. Now it’s up to Republican senators to listen.

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