Dec 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why some House Republicans flipped to "no" on marriage equality

Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference to highlight Cuban Independence Day in 2021. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

More than half a dozen House Republicans who voted to codify federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriage in July flipped to voting "no" or "present" on Thursday – despite the Senate making the bill more GOP-friendly.

Why it matters: The backslide highlights the political tightrope many GOP elected officials are walking as LGBTQ+ rights continue to divide the party.

Driving the news: The bill passed with support from 39 Republicans, down from the 47 who voted for it in July – even after a bipartisan group of senators amended the bill to ensure it doesn't infringe on religious liberty.

  • Reps. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Maria Salazar (R-Fla.) and Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) flipped to "no," while Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) voted present.
  • Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) flipped the opposite direction, voting "yes" on Thursday after voting "no" in July.
  • Gallagher noted to Axios that senators "fixed" his concern about the bill potentially enabling polygamy and "inserted religious freedom protections." He added that House members "had time to actually review the bill" this time.

What they're saying: Meuser said his objection is that religious freedom protections in the bill were too narrow, only protecting religious institutions but not nonprofits.

  • He told Axios, "I don't know if Republicans in the Senate read the bill, but I did. And that was very problematic. ... It was a symbolic vote because it's the law of the land anyway."
  • Diaz-Balart, Salazar, Van Drew and Owens also cited concerns about religious freedom protections. "I have no problems with the LGBT community," Salazar said, "I'm sure they agree with me."
  • Perry said of his initial vote: "It was rushed to the floor ... I walked on the floor as the vote was happening, I knew I had a choice between voting against traditional marriage or voting against interracial marriage," adding, "I just made the wrong choice."

Between the lines: GOP lawmakers and aides also told Axios there was considerable pressure from conservative groups and activists on some Republican "yes" votes to flip.

  • One aide to a Republican "yes" vote chalked the flips up to "intense lobbying from various conservative groups between July & now ... phone lines were full of people from across the country urging a no vote."
  • Salazar told Axios she heard from "many people" upset about her initial vote. Van Drew said he "absolutely" heard from upset constituents, and he found their feedback persuasive.
  • Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said he also faced backlash, though he stuck by his original position: "That's why they pay you the big bucks."
  • "It's very easy to vote 'no,' it's hard to get to get to 'yes' ... on votes like this," said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who also maintained his “yes” vote. Asked if he thinks there was politics involved in his colleagues' decision-making, he said: "I think there always is."

The other side: Some Democrats also offered their theories about the vote-flips. "If they were for it before the election, why are they not for it now? I have no idea, other than pressure groups. Right-wing pressure groups," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), adding that it's "pretty cynical."

  • Former Rep. Barney Frank, who attended the vote on Thursday, told Axios that, because of the Senate changes, the "only explanation for the drop off" is that "more Republicans voted for this when it was an electoral issue."
  • Counterintuitively, Frank said that's a "good sign" for the political direction of same-sex marriage.
  • "When I was doing gay rights I had Republicans telling me, 'I'll support you after the primary'... the political impulse was to be negative," he said. "Now, the political impulse was apparently to be positive."
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