Late last month, as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas made a proposal: Now that the court had helped conservatives achieve their decades-long goal of scrapping the national right to an abortion, he and his colleagues should revisit other landmark rulings affording millions of Americans fundamental rights. Specifically, Thomas indicated that he’d like to see “Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell” reconsidered, which would mean reversing the constitutional right to contraception, same-sex sexual activity, and same-sex marriage. If you’re reading this slack-jawed and thinking, “What…the absolute fuck,” you’re not alone! While some conservatives have spent the last month insisting that none of these federal protections are actually on the line, that turns out to be pretty cold comfort given that they said the same thing about abortion. It’s also similarly worrisome given that various Republican officials are literally out there saying, “Yeah, the court should overturn that same-sex marriage ruling,” among other things.
In an attempt to simultaneously enshrine such rights into law and force Republicans to go on the record re: their positions, on Tuesday the House held a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would create federal protection for marriages regardless of the spouses’ sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that specifically defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The bill passed 267-157; all the ‘no’ votes were Republicans, with 47 members of the GOP voting ‘yes.’
A separate bill, protecting access to contraception, is scheduled for a vote later this week. Is it completely insane that any of this is necessary in the year 2022? Sure is! Is it nevertheless hugely important given that people like Thomas (and Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, and John Cornyn) think the only people in this country who should have rights are the ones who had rights when the Constitution was written? Scarily, yes!
While the Respect for Marriage Act passed the House, it was not be without opposition and gaslighting from some of the worst members of Congress, like Representative Jim Jordan, who insisted on Tuesday that the attempt to protect same-sex marriage rights is simply a Democratic plot to “intimidate” the Supreme Court.
Democrats, though, are happy for Republicans to air their objections to the bills being voted on this week, and in doing so out themselves as the bigots they are. Though some in competitive seats are reportedly worried that the successful passage of the legislation would take away a key messaging tool for Democrats in the midterms (i.e., look at this 17th-century hellhole Republicans want us to live in), others would just be happy to see these rights protected. “I’m not going to worry about whether that’s going to undercut Democratic messaging in the midterms and all that stuff. I’ll be thrilled if that happens,” Representative Susan Wild told The Washington Post. “I would be delighted if we have that problem. I don’t think these are messaging bills. I believe these are genuinely necessary bills. I think it would be negligent of us, it would be malpractice, if we didn’t take these bills up.” In a statement, Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, warned, “As this Court may take aim at other fundamental rights, we cannot sit idly by.”
Unfortunately, once the bills hit the Senate, they’re almost certain to fail, not only because of various right-wing nuts hell-bent on taking away millions of people’s rights, but thanks to people like Senator Joni Ernst, who apparently has learned absolutely zero lessons over the last month. Speaking to The Post, the Iowa senator—who introduced legislation in 2019 to expand access to over-the-counter contraception without a prescription—said she feels “pretty strongly about making sure women have contraception.” But she was nevertheless “noncommittal” about voting yes for federal protections for contraception, saying it should probably be left to the states. “I don’t think states will go that far,” she said.
This article was updated after Tuesday's House vote.