US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg criticized Republicans’ dismissal of the importance of a bill codifying the legality of same-sex marriage Sunday, as Democrats search for enough Republican support in the Senate to pass the bill all the way through Congress.
After the US House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act in the first step in protecting same-sex marriage via law, Florida Senator Marco Rubio told CNN that the bill was “a stupid waste of time.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Buttigieg, who is openly gay with a husband and children, about his reaction to Rubio’s statement.
The transportation secretary gave a pointed response, referencing the drama around Disney’s Don’t Say Gay bill and arguing, “If [Rubio’s] got time to fight against Disney, I don’t know why he wouldn’t have time to help safeguard marriages like mine.”
“This is really, really important to a lot of people. It’s certainly important to me,” Buttigieg said. He spoke with Tapper about his family and caring for his children, and specifically noted how it reminded him just how much he relies on his husband.
“Our marriage deserves to be treated equally,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t know why this would be hard for a senator or a congressman, I don’t understand how such a majority of House Republicans voted no on our marriage.”
Buttigieg said that the majority of Republicans voting against same-sex marriage was especially difficult to understand considering only hours earlier, he had been speaking about transportation policy perfectly civilly with many of the politicians who then voted against protecting marriages like his.
While composed and articulate, Buttigieg clearly felt passionate about the protection of same-sex marriage, and understandably so. “If [Republicans] don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, they can vote ‘yes,’ and move on, and that would be really reassuring for a lot of families around America, including mine,” he said.
Rubio does not appear likely to take this path, however. A spokesperson for the Florida senator told NBC he would vote against the bill, and that he feels “it is unnecessary, there are other priorities, and this is an issue he’s always believed should be handled by the states.”
However, while Rubio may not be one of them, multiple Republican lawmakers have changed their stances on same-sex marriage over the past few years and decades. The general American population has too. Support for same-sex marriage is currently at an all-time high according to a May Gallup poll, with 71% of Americans supporting marriage equality in a drastic change from the 27% who supported same-sex marriage during Gallup’s first poll on the subject in 1996.
Today, the bill needs ten Republican senators to support it in order to bypass a filibuster and make it through the Senate. As of July 21, the New York Times reported five GOP senators as likely to support the bill. This includes definite support from Maine Senator Susan Collins and Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who are joining Democrats to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act.
The bill seeks to enshrine marriage equality in law after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his opinion for the Dobbs case, which overturned Roe v. Wade, that the Supreme Court “reconsider” s0me other decisions that use Roe as precedent. Thomas named 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which secured the right to same-sex marriage across the United States, as one of the decisions potentially worth reassessment.
There are those who see the bill as unnecessary. Some Republican senators, like South Dakota’s John Thune, have argued that overturning Obergefell is not “an issue right now that anybody’s talking about.” Indeed, Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion states that the Dobbs ruling should be understood to apply only to the right to abortion access.
However, most Americans had accepted Roe as settled law, and conservative Justices, who later voted to strike the ruling down, claimed to accept Roe as settled during their confirmation hearings. Verbal commitments and vague declarations now feel unreliable, giving support to fears that Obergefell may truly come under reevaluation.
Democrats obviously aim to protect marriage equality through the Respect for Marriage Act, but the bill serves another purpose, too. It acts as a strategic election year manoeuvre by forcing Republicans to go on record about an issue important to many Americans, all while politicians gear up for 2022’s midterm elections.
Republican senators will need to please their constituents while simultaneously remaining in good favour with the party. While the party itself has moved in a tolerant direction, with 55% of Republicans supporting same-sex marriage, factions deeply opposed to the very idea of queerness remain.
With the Texas Republican Party calling homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle choice” in their party platform and 157 out of 211 House Republicans voting against the Act, the party appears deeply divided.
The outcome of the Senate’s eventual vote remains unclear, then, but remains extremely salient as politicians continue to wield anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation as weapons on the American political battlefield.
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