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Sen. Cynthia Lummis isn’t exactly the avatar of LGBT rights in Washington. Conservative Republican Drew boos this spring during a commencement address in Wyoming to criticizing those who support transgender identity. She tried in 2016 to give parents coupons to get their kids out of school and get around an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender students to use any bathroom that matched their gender identity. She cosponsored the State Defense of Marriage Act of 2015, which would have allowed states to ignore federal recognition of same-sex couples to marry. She voted in 2010 against the repeal of the Bill Clinton-era Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. These examples, it should be noted, are not exhaustive.
In other words, Lummis was well within the current GOP position on LGBT rights and, as of Tuesday, well outside of public opinion during the last decade of said policy.
That perceived hostility faded slightly on Tuesday, when an animated Lummis took to the Senate floor to explain why there had been voted against a procedural delay on November 16 for a measure that would protect some rights of LGBT and interracial couples to marry, and why he would soon vote to repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act. It was quite a jarring break for a figure who had scored a consistent zero on his LGBT record in the House and rated only slightly better for his time in the Senate, according to the Human Rights Campaign. (his lonely credit in the eyes of the larger LGBT rights group? A vote for the confirmation of Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation.)
“My days since the first closing vote on the Respect Marriage Act as amended have involved a painful exercise in accepting the admonition and some pretty brutal soul-searching,” Lummis said. “Entirely avoidable, I might add, if I had simply chosen to vote ‘no’.”
Invoices Advanceperhaps one of the last moves in a low Washington unified democratic control, is in response to concerns that the Supreme Court could follow the logic it applied in this year’s election Dobbs decision ending the federal right to abortion extended through Roe vs. Wade. If the court could overturn half a century of accepted abortion precedent, presumably nothing could block to do the same with 2015 Obergefell sentence that affirms the right of homosexual couples to marry, or even that of 1967 Caring case protecting interracial marriage.
In a way, Lummis may have offered his friends a way out of the political trouble being forced upon the Republican Party with Dobbs. Lummis is a longtime member of the Wyoming Republican Party, dating back to her first election to the state house in 1978. When Bob Dole and Mitt Romney needed a review of their deeply red Wyoming presidential candidacies, they called in Lummis, who has guided governors to power since the 1990s. But she is not known for regularly finding herself at odds with her party. When fellow Wyoming lawmaker Rep. Liz Cheney clashed with much of the Republican Party over condemning then-President Donald Trump’s conduct before and during the January 6 riots, Lummis established a smart distance from Cheney in the months that followed. lummis slyly refused rushing to Cheney’s defense, hoping that in the immediate aftermath of the madness no one would pay too much attention to his dynamic. lummis voted against certifying the results that showed Trump lost Pennsylvania and adopted Trump’s rhetoric that “I feel like other forces like Antifa were advocating violence.”
So it’s impossible to see Lummis as anything close to a crush when it comes to conservative orthodoxy. Her adherence to the Republican Party position is so strong that she delivered that commencement address that included disparaging comments about transgender students on a campus that had recently dealt with the suicide of a transgender classmate. Even more jarring for LGBT groups, she made the comments on the Laramie, Wyoming, campus of the University of Wyoming. where Matthew Shepard studied before two men beat, tortured and delicate the 21 year old gay student in 1998. (Lummis voted against hate crime legislation named in memory of Shepard that was finally signed into law in 2009 as a defense budget amendment).
Still, if Tuesday’s hearing could set aside Lummis’ history of voting against LGBT rights, the speech itself was moving. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and the first openly bisexual woman elected to the Senate, greeted Lummis with a big hug after the vote.
And for those who were able to silence what they knew about Lummis’s record, it offered a glimmer of hope for activists. Here was a figure who had been a consistent skeptic of LGBT rights and didn’t much care that the few voices in his state that advocated for equality rose up against him. Wyoming send she to the Senate in 2000 with 73% of the votes; she ran ahead of Trump by three whole points.
Still, there she was on the floor of the Senate, totally united on this issue that she has seen an earthquake. change in public opinion in recent years. Pew Research Center Survey find 61% of Americans view same-sex marriage today as a net positive, a total investment since 2004 when Republicans used the wedge issue to appeal to evangelical voters. Lummis’s comments reflected this reality, even if three-quarters of his fellow Republicans eventually voted Against.
“These are turbulent times for our nation,” Lummis said. “Americans address each other in cruder and crueler terms than ever in my life. It’s jarring and unlike us as human beings. It is highly intolerant and often more so when expressed by those who advocate tolerance. Many of us wonder, ‘Our nation is so divided. When will this end? And how will it end?’”
His comments also reflect an inconvenient fact, covered in this Newsletter recently: as written, the Respect for Marriage Act itself is missing several crucial teeth. For one thing, it does not codify the marital rights embedded in the Obergefell decision. It only requires states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. If the Supreme Court strikes down the federal law, this bill does nothing to prevent states from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, who would have to find a better jurisdiction to get married. The bill returning to the House for a final vote still allows organizations to deny recognition to same-sex and interracial couples if it violates their religious beliefs. And the provision that prohibits polyamorous marriages, with more than two people, for strangers, is as much a dog whistle as it is bizarre. The final bill is not so much a approval of inclusive marriages, but rather, in the words of new LGBT friend twitterati: tolerance.
That’s how it is. Lummis repeatedly framed her position as one of toleration of the rights of LGBT people, not necessarily a desire to protect them. It’s a minor distinction, but one that resonated loudly with the ears of those of us who watch LGBT politics with any consistency. It is one thing to hug gay neighbors and quite another No a throw a brick through his window.
“For the good of our nation today and its survival, we do well to take this step, not by accepting or validating the devout views of others, but by the simple act of tolerating them,” Lummis said in a statement whose intentions may not be meant to fly like a brick, but it still did damage.
Still, Lummis got there, along with 11 other Republicans in the Senate. An earlier version of the bill passed the House with the support for of 47 Republicans. The Senate-amended version, with changes intended to make it more palatable to conservatives, is expected to get a House vote next week and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it. Lummis’s language may not be what the Human Rights Campaign team would prefer, but at least he had words to make the point, even if they aren’t perfect. And in doing so, Lummis may have shown an entire cohort of conservatives how they can slowly evolve on an issue that most of the country has already outgrown.
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