By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis riled up the staunchly conservative wing of the Wyoming Republican Party in recent weeks for her votes to support the Respect for Marriage Act. Now, the only question remaining is will that support impact her standing with Cowboy State Republicans?
Lummis has kept a decidedly conservative voting record throughout her political career. Even while issuing consistent support for the recent legislation that requires states to recognize same-sex marriages done anywhere in the U.S., Lummis went to great lengths to explain that although she disagrees with same-sex marriage because of her personal religious beliefs, she and others must respect it because of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.
“People of diverse faith, beliefs and backgrounds had to come to terms with each other, had to tolerate the seemingly intolerable about each other’s views, and had to respect each other’s rights even before the Constitution enumerated those rights,” Lummis said while arguing in support of the bill on the Senate floor. “They had to tolerate each other in order to survive as a nation.”
Meanwhile, In Wyoming …
State Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, said he is frustrated with Lummis’ vote because he believes she didn’t consult with Wyoming residents on the issue.
Although he said he believes people shouldn’t give up on her yet, Neiman said he’s not supporting Lummis moving forward and has spoken with many others who feel the same way.
“I know the conservative view on this, I think it could potentially hurt her,” Neiman said. “Especially if she keeps voting like this.”
A September poll from the Human Rights Campaign found that 58% of Wyoming residents support a national right to same-sex marriage. Nationally, a June Gallup poll found that number sits at 71%.
A Sound Political Move
Former Republican U.S. Sen. Al Simpson believes Lummis’ vote will gain her support in the state and not impact her political career moving forward.
“It won’t be a blip on the radar,” Simpson said. “It was one of the most courageous acts she’s ever done. It shows guts.”
Simpson questions what motivation young people have to join the Republican Party these days, which he said is rife with homophobia, bigotry and “doesn’t like marginalized people.”
“There isn’t someone in a single audience these days that doesn’t have a daughter, cousin or friend that isn’t lesbian or gay,” he said.
Jeff Wallack, a conservative radio host from Sheridan and the Wyoming Realtors federal political liaison to incoming U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, believes this issue won’t go away for Lummis, who he said has made a “long-term mistake.”
“I’ve already heard conversations of people looking for an opponent to run against her,” he said. “I don’t know if she’s beatable. I don’t think so at this point.”
Lummis has shown a strong ability to fundraise and has a lengthy political background in the Wyoming. Wallack said a formidable opponent would have to bring similar credentials to have a chance at beating her.
Pushback From ‘Extreme’ Group
State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, supports the vote Lummis made. He believes those opposing her vote, such as the leadership of the Wyoming Republican Party, do not represent the majority of Republicans in the state.
“She may have a falling out with those who have an extreme-thinking social lens,” he said. “She made a good choice to stand with real Republicans, not those associated with the state party.”
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, also supports the move.
“Proud of this vote by @SenLummis,” he posted on Twitter. “Thank you for standing up for our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. I will defend my religion every day but I will also defend the liberty for those who don’t choose to accept my faith as well. We all need to do better at accepting others!”
Vince Vanata, a Park County Republican Party state committeeman, said although he opposes Lummis’ vote because he believes same-sex marriage should be a state’s rights issue, he is skeptical the issue will stick with her over the next four years.
“People in general are more apt to forget,” Vanata said. “But, if individuals are reminded of it, it could come back.”
Simpson also is incredulous that the Wyoming Republican Party is blasting Lummis for her vote on one bill. This falls in line with the Park County Republican Party’s reaction to U.S. Sen John Barrasso last spring after he voted for a budget bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood. The party sent him a letter of reprimand for his vote.
On Thursday, the U.S. House passed the final version of the bill, which President Joe Biden indicated he will sign.
The original version of the bill that passed through the House won the support of more Republicans than the final version, as eight Republicans flipped their votes of support on Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney voted for the bill both times.
Same-sex rights is a hot-button issue across America. The same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ movement as a whole have gained significant traction in recent decades with many rights and protections enacted nationwide. How far these protections go will likely be up to the courts to decide.
Courts Will Weigh In
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court considered arguments in the case of a Colorado graphic designer who argued the First Amendment gives her the right to refuse creating websites celebrating same-sex weddings because of her Christian faith. The case comes on the heels of a strikingly similar case considered by the Supreme Court in 2018, when it ruled a Colorado baker was not required to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Lummis’ argued that the Respect for Marriage Act strengthens religious protections and protects nonprofits and religious organizations from civil and federal lawsuits. She supported an amendment to the bill ensuring religious liberty protections, which passed.
Lummis voted to support other amendments made by Republican Sens. Mike Lee, James Lank and Marco Rubio that would have further added various religious and private business protections to the bill. None passed.
Four years is a long time in politics.
Simpson joked that he doesn’t believe Lummis’ detractors will remember her vote on the Respect for Marriage Act for longer than four days.
“All they care about is the immediacy of action, the immediacy of results,” he said.
Vanata said it’s way too early to decide if he will vote again for Lummis in 2026, if she chooses to run again.
Lummis won an overwhelming majority of the vote in 2020 and prior to her recent vote, there wasn’t strong evidence much of that support has wavered.
If she returns to her consistently conservative voting record over the next four years, her detractors likely will only have a narrow body of work to criticize her for.
Further, Lummis’ vote may have gained her significant points within Wyoming Democratic circles, which uniformly support same-sex marriage. A Democratic or Independent voter may be more motivated to vote for her now, especially when considering the state’s overwhelming Republican majority of voters.
Wallack said if she doesn’t return to her base, however, it won’t take long for Lummis to follow a similar fate to a particular U.S. congresswoman recently voted out of office.
“With Liz Cheney it only took one year,” Wallack said.