Politics

A Taxonomy of Republican Senators Trying to Respond to the Gay Marriage Bill

They’re all squirming—just in their own ways.

Rubio gives the peace symbol through the window.
Sen. Marco Rubio leaves Smokey Row Coffee House following a campaign stop on Nov. 21, 2015, in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act—which would legally protect same-sex and interracial marriages even if the Supreme Court were to strike current Constitutional protections down—by a bipartisan 267-157 vote.

While marriage equality has been settled law since Obergefell v. Hodges was decided by the court seven years ago and interracial marriage bans have been unconstitutional since the court decided Loving v. Virginia in 1967, the court’s decision this term to strike down the nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion in Dobbs has elevated concerns that other liberty-based rights may not remain on the books for long. Those concerns were worsened by Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs, in which he said that the court should reconsider rights like marriage equality that were based in the same reasoning as Roe v. Wade, which the court struck down.

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This has created a bit of a rare political opening for Democrats to actually put Republicans on the back foot for a change. As the Wall Street Journal noted, more than 90 percent of Americans oppose interracial marriage bans, while more than 67 percent oppose same-sex marriage bans. At the same time, many conservatives have long held to the position that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it’s now an issue that splits their base, with Evangelical voters still largely opposed to marriage equality.

Politically speaking, this should be a slam dunk for the Democrats, which is why they were able to peel away 47 Republicans—or a quarter of the GOP caucus—in supporting the House version of the bill. Indeed, Senate Minority Whip John Thune noted that “there was pretty good bipartisan support in the House yesterday and I expect there’d probably be the same thing you’d see” in the Senate.

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Other Republican senators were more skeptical. Take for instance Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who called the House bill a “stupid waste of time.” Others gave a more muddled response, such as Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who wouldn’t commit one way or another on the bill but when asked about whether he supports same-sex marriage said, “Yeah, if that’s what you want to do, fine.”

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So varied were the Republican responses to actually being put in a tough political spot that it’s worth categorizing the responses these GOP senators gave. Here’s a taxonomy of Republicans trying to explain whether or not they support the Respect for Marriage Act.

Response one: Sure, maybe, whatever, is that even a thing?

Many Republicans attempted to waive away the issue without issuing a response. The most hilarious of these was Tuberville’s “if that’s what you want to do, fine.” There were other, less hilarious versions, though:

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Thune to Axios: “It’s hard to say. I haven’t looked at them. … I haven’t even given any thought to that.”

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to Axios: “I haven’t given it any thought. I’m focused on other things right now.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to Axios: “You’re hitting me with something I haven’t had time for, sorry.” (Later Capito said “I’d rather answer those questions when we have the vote.”)

Sen. Todd Young of Indiana to Axios: “I have not heard anything about the predicate for your question.”

Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota to Axios: “I got enough to worry about over here right now, and then to talk about the hypotheticals of something that might come over from the House.”

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Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to Axios: “I’ll worry about hypotheticals at the time we have it.”

Response two: I cannot comment until I’m actually physically forced to, and maybe not even then.

Multiple senators indicated that they couldn’t say where they stood until the issue was actually forced to a vote, or until they saw the precise language of a bill and found the one line of cover upon which they could base some narrow objection to get out of having to vote for the thing.

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida to Axios: “I want to see the bills.”

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri to Axios: “I haven’t seen the bills.”

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to Axios: “I’d have to look at them.”

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Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana to Axios: “Until I see the legislation, I’m … not going to make a comment on whether I’d support it or not.”

Response three: I thought we settled that one already?

Several Republican senators acted indignant that they’d even be asked to vote on something that is considered settled law, even though they might want the Supreme Court to overturn that settled law and the court just happened to do something similar in Dobbs.

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Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to Axios: “Incredibly stupid … pure messaging. It’s wasting the American people’s time. It’s trying to stir up fear where there is no fear. I mean, my gosh.”

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri to Axios: “I think the premise there is that it’s somehow likely the Supreme Court is going to overturn basically their entire substantive due process law. … I think the chances of that are approximately zero. … The premise here is a false premise, so I wouldn’t be inclined to take the bait.”

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Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa to Axios: “Nothing like that should even be thought about by anybody because it’s not endangered in any way. I don’t know why people would come to that conclusion.” Later Grassley responded to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic: “It’s the law of the land.” Bobic noted “He didn’t respond when a reporter said so was Roe.”

Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas to Axios: “Sounds like it’s a bill in search of a problem.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota to Axios: “I have to think about it … seems gimmicky to me… [It might do] more harm than you can good.”

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Sen. Thune (again): “I got a view on that that goes back a long ways. But I also respect the decision that was made by the Court in 2015. And I don’t think it’s an issue right now that anybody’s talking about.”

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Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic: “I don’t think it would be necessary so probably not.”

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic. “Given the fact that the law is settled on this … I don’t think we need to lose sleep over it unless there were a development that suggested the law was going to be changed.”

Response four: I support the opposite thing!

The Respect for Marriage Act also would officially overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which technically remains on the books despite the court having struck it down. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina confused some people by declaring “I’ll support the Defense of Marriage Act,” which, again, is defunct, instead of the new RFMA law. So, the exact opposite thing of what is being proposed.

Response five: I certainly know gay and homosexual people, some of the married varietals.

Rubio: “I know plenty of gay people in Florida that are pissed off about gas bills.”

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Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic: “I have a good number of very close friends that are same-sex married.”

Response six: I actually support the popular position.

Retiring Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s office says he will sponsor the bill, joining Sen. Susan Collins of Maine as a co-sponsor.* Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also indicated some level of support.

Response seven: I’m confused what my constituents will tolerate, so I’ll say different things to different people.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina initially told Axios that he supported states’ rights to decide the question of marriage equality, saying, “A lot of the focus should be on the choices that state legislatures make. And I think it would be premature for us to take up those sort of actions now.”

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Later, though, he told CNN’s Manu Raju that he “probably will” support the bill. So you’re guess is as good as ours as to what he’ll actually do.

Bonus response: Gay people have every right to be miserable as the rest of us. (Try the veal.)

As a bonus, here is the response from Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican who already voted for the House version of the bill:

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Update, July 21: This sentence has been updated to clarify that Sen. Susan Collins is also a co-sponsor.

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