Jul 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP faces conscience vote on marriage equality

House GOP press conference
Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Republican leadership isn't telling their members how to vote on a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and codify federal recognition for same-sex and interracial marriages but is instead advising them to vote their conscience, a senior GOP aide told Axios.

Why it matters: The bill, introduced by House Democrats, serves a dual purpose: It reassures liberals concerned about the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court and forces Republicans to go on the record on an issue that is widely popular with the general public.

  • The bill has one Republican sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), but none in the House.
  • In a concurring opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the court should reconsider opinions protecting same-sex relationships, marriage equality and access to contraceptives, prompting Democrats to move to codify those rights.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded by saying the opinion "confirmed many of our deepest fears about where this decision may lead."
  • State lawmakers have introduced 162 bills targeting LGBTQ Americans this year through July 1, per CNN.

Driving the news: Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), the House GOP's chief deputy whip, said he has "not had a lot of conversations with members" about the bill, telling Axios, "We got other battles that seem to be a little higher priority."

  • House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at a press conference he expects his conference to be "split" on the bill.

What they're saying: Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Axios he thinks his Republican colleagues have shifted on LGBTQ+ issues since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015: "I think many have [softened]."

  • Bacon said his personal view is "people have the right to live their lives the way they want" and that he is "inclined to want to vote for the bill," but sees it as a "game vote that's just trying to divide" Republicans.
  • Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who has positioned herself as a relative libertarian on issues like marijuana, said she's "leaning into supporting" the bill but wants to read it first: "I fully support the rights of anyone to get married."
  • Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), whose district absorbed several large LGBTQ communities in redistricting this year, said he "probably will vote for it."
  • Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) said she plans to vote for the bill and predicted it will “get quite a few Republican votes,” adding, “All I can do is speak for myself. It’s the right vote and I’m proud to vote for it.”

By the numbers: 10 Republicans told Axios before the vote that they are a "yes" or leaning toward voting for the bill — but the bill could potentially get dozens of GOP votes, according to several Republican members.

  • In addition to Bacon, Mace, Calvert and Malliotakis, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Carlos Giménez (R-Fla.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), John Curtis (R-Utah) and John Katk0 (R-N.Y.) signaled plans to vote for the bill.
  • "Just by talking to colleagues outside of here, I think it's [going to get more Republican votes] than people realize," said Katko, the chair of the moderate Republican Governance Group, after the group met to discuss the bill.

What we're watching: How the bill fares in the House could signal whether it will get the 10 Republican Senate votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

The bottom line: This is an issue Republicans have largely been able to ignore since 2015 when the court affirmed marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges. Politically, they have to straddle the divide in public opinion between their conservative base and the general public, who overwhelmingly support marriage rights.

Go deeper