In response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the Democrat-controlled House has teed up twin bills, one to protect same-sex marriage and one to protect the right to contraception, out of concern that the conservative majority is coming for those rights next. It's a totally justified fear. In his concurrence on the Roe overturn, Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly called previous decisions to legalize contraception and same-sex marriage "demonstrably erroneous" and called on the court to "correct" those rights like they "corrected" the right to abortion.
These two bills are almost certainly doomed to fail, because the Republican minority in Congress has a near-absolute power to kill bills through the abusing the filibuster. That's what happened when House Democrats tried to protect abortion rights. There's little reason to think Republicans have any more affection for the right to prevent pregnancy or allowing LGBTQ people to marry for love.
Tuesday, this was proved when a whopping 78% of Republicans in the House failed to vote for marriage equality. While the bill passed due to a Democratic majority, it's near-certain that Republicans in the Senate will filibuster any attempt to protect same-sex marriage. And yet, if you glanced through mainstream media headlines, you'd think that Republicans have wrapped themselves in the rainbow flag and are celebrating same-sex marriage these days.
The media's hopes and dreams for a more moderate GOP continue to outweigh the radicalized reality.
"House passes bill to codify marriage equality with large bipartisan support," claimed a Axios headline. "House passes measure that would codify same-sex marriage into law with bipartisan support," declared the headline at the Washington Post.
"47 House Republicans vote to write same-sex marriage into law," Politico declared, failing both to give the 100% of Democrats who voted for it credit and ignoring the 78% of Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage rights.
The CBS headline highlighted the 47 Republicans who voted for the bill over the 164 who voted no or refused to show up. Even the BBC, which is usually better than this, played along with "Republicans help pass House gay marriage bill."
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Despite the fact that Republicans continue to actively cover up for an ex-president who attempted a fascist coup, the media's hopes and dreams for a more moderate GOP continue to outweigh the radicalized reality. Even some liberals on Twitter, yearning for Republicans to suck less, tried to divine reasons for optimism in numbers that actually indicate that the GOP is controlled by fundamentalist homophobes. Harvard professor Laurence Tribe was a sad example of this longing.
True enough, @RepAdamSchiff. But more remarkable these days is that 47 Republicans just voted FOR codifying marriage equality for LGBTQ+ and interracial couples. This glass is 23% full while it's 77% empty. I opt to look at the (almost) 1/4 that's full. We can go from there. https://t.co/9rTK1PeUNV
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) July 20, 2022
It's wishful thinking, assuming that 22% number is fated to grow. There used to be pro-choice Republicans in politics, after all, but they eventually got wiped out through pressure exerted by the fanatical fundamentalist base the party depends on to win elections. Right now, the same process is happening on the issue of LGBTQ rights, as the Christian nationalist base moves to turn queerphobia into a purity test for Republican politicians. All meaningful signs suggest that GOP is moving to the right on the issue of LGBTQ rights.
Well-financed activist organizations have made it their central mission to force queer people back into the closet by banning books and penalizing public sector workers like teachers and librarians who acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people. In one town, a public library was closed due to Republican pressure to fire the LGBTQ staff and censor books with queer characters and themes. Trumpian organizations like the Proud Boys have increasingly focused their efforts on terrorizing gay and trans people for simply going about their business, by targeting gay bars and drag shows for intimidation and harassment.
Republicans know they have to use deflection and subterfuge to advance their agenda.
This has been met with widespread approval by the official Republican apparatus.
In the House, both Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana voted against marriage equality. The official GOP platform calls for a reversal of Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage. As I detailed in the Standing Room Only newsletter, Republicans in the Senate have been coming out hard against same-sex marriage rights. Multiple senators, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, have been making noises about how Obergefell was "wrongly decided." Sen. John Cornyn of Texas even floated some strategies for repealing the decision during the confirmation hearings for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. On the state level, most famously in Florida, Republicans are passing bills to censor public acknowledgment of LGBTQ existence.
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House Republicans know that opposing same-sex marriage makes them look like bigots — which they are — but rather than reversing course, they are whining about Democrats having the gall to call them out for it.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene threw a tantrum declaring that the bill was unnecessary because "no one is taking away gay marriage." She then admitted that she was voting against it because "I believe that marriage is a union made by God between a man and a woman." Rep. Jim Jordon of Ohio thundered that Democrats are trying to "attempt to intimidate the United States Supreme Court," a talking point that only makes sense if the plan is to have the court overturn same-sex marriage against the will of the people. (And only if you believe the Supreme Court's "right" to vacate all laws Republicans don't like is absolute.) Sen. Marco Rubio, who is up for re-election in Florida this year, said he would vote against the House bill to protect same-sex marriages, calling it a "stupid waste of time."
No doubt about it: Same-sex marriage is popular with the public. Then again, so are abortion rights. The opposition to same-sex marriage comes from the exact same minority of people — call them Christian nationalists — who oppose abortion rights. The GOP answers to this small minority and not to the larger public. That's why they are dismantling democracy so that the more liberal majority simply doesn't have a say in what our laws around marriage and reproductive rights are. And, just as with the attack on abortion rights, Republicans know they have to use deflection and subterfuge to advance their agenda so that they can snatch the right to same-sex marriage away without most of the public realizing that it's happening until it's too late.
That 22% vote for this bill should be understood in that context. Republicans need to lull voters into thinking the party isn't as radical as it actually is. Tossing a measly 22% vote at this bill secures the "bipartisan" headlines they need to prop up the illusion of moderation, while not risking the chance of a bill actually passing through the Senate. Once Republicans bamboozle the public into letting them control the federal government again, they can swiftly gut democracy even further, ensuring that the majority of voters can never throw them out of power again. After that, the charade of "moderation" on LGBTQ rights can be dropped, and the will of the Christian nationalists that control the party can be imposed on the nation. That's how they're doing it on reproductive rights. It's the same clear path forward to destroy LGBTQ rights.
Liberals like Tribe would do well to stop hoping for a more moderate Republican party and instead focus on what actually needs to happen: Convincing more voters to walk away from the GOP entirely.
The good news is that Republican radicalism on issues like same-sex marriage and reproductive rights does more to turn potential voters away than nearly anything else. Research shows that large numbers of young white people in conservative communities are breaking with the churches of their youth over these issues. If they associate the GOP with the same fundamentalist intolerance, they will be likelier to break with the party, too.
Creating that association, however, means being honest with the public. Instead of hyping an inconsequential minority of Republicans who support — though not when it matters! — same-sex marriage, liberals should focus on the overwhelming majority that breaks with the public on this issue. The mainstream media, too, should be less concerned on spinning Republicans to make them look less bad and leveling with their audiences: Most Republicans oppose LGBTQ rights.
The party is only becoming more queerphobic, not less. There's an ongoing campaign, blessed by Republican leadership, to force queer people back into the closet and strip away their basic rights. The loss of Roe should only underline why it's crucial not to hide our heads in the sand about this. If we look away from what Republicans actually stand for, that makes it that much easier for them to impose their fundamentalist agenda.