By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
The Respect for Marriage Act, legislation codifying same-sex marriage into federal law, passed the U.S. Senate on a 61-36 vote Tuesday afternoon with U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ supporting vote.
During a speech given on the Senate floor Tuesday, the Wyoming Republican mentioned America’s early founding fathers and how she believes the bill respects both religious and secular views, a testament she believes to be representative of the American spirit.
“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. “They had to tolerate each other in order to survive as a nation.”
Wyoming’s other U.S. senator, John Barrasso, voted against the bill.
The bill’s passage in the Senate was the highest hurdle it had remaining before passing into law, as the U.S. House has a much larger Democratic contingency likely to support the legislation and already passed its own version of the bill this summer.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, voted to support that bill.
Over the past few weeks, Lummis has stood behind her Christian belief of marriage being a union between one man and one woman. She said she views the federal legislation as the strongest protection of religious freedom legislation enacted since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
“I, and many like me, have been vilified and despised by some that disagree with our beliefs,” Lummis said.
On Nov. 16, Lummis, along with 11 other Senate Republicans, voted to allow the bill to go to a vote, which drew a sharp backlash from many conservative Republicans in Wyoming.
The bill passed with a a 62-37 margin, surpassing by two votes the threshold to avoid a Republican filibuster, which would have nixed any further consideration of the bill.
“My days since the first cloture vote for the Respect for Marriage Act as amended have involved a painful exercise in accepting admonishment and fairly brutal self soul searching, entirely avoidable I might add had I simply chosen to vote no,” Lummis said Tuesday afternoon.
State GOP Responds
The Wyoming Republican Party put out a press release against her decision to support letting the bill go to a vote, and the state Legislature’s House Freedom Caucus wrote her a letter imploring her to vote against it.
The Freedom Caucus made the argument that a vote for the bill would go against First Amendment protection for freedom of religion.
“The Democrats in Congress are attacking the Defense of Marriage Act and placing Christians and other religious people’s freedom of belief at risk,” state Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, wrote in a Facebook post last week. “Senator Lummis must reverse her stance and stand for free speech and freedom of religion. The First Amendment must be upheld.”
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the Wyoming Pastors Network also wrote a letter asking Lummis to “reverse course” on the bill.
The Wyoming Republican Party has maintained a firm benchmark for those it considers loyal to its ranks, requiring an 80% adherence to its platform for support.
Lummis has maintained a conservative stance on virtually all other issues, making the fervent opposition to her vote on this bill unusual.
In contrast to Cheney, both Lummis and Barrasso have mostly been able to avoid the crosshairs of state GOP rebuke in the post-Donald Trump era.
Lummis was voted into office in 2020 with 198,100 votes, the most ever cast for a candidate in Wyoming history.
Lummis supported former President Donald Trump in his reelection bid and was endorsed by him in her campaign. One of her first acts as senator was voting against certifying the Pennsylvania results of the 2020 election, a move in lockstep with Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election. She also voted to acquit Trump during his second impeachment trial following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“I want to thank all of the Republicans who have supported this, I know it has not been easy, but they have done the right thing,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said during discussion before the bill’s passage.
On Tuesday, Lummis voted to support amendments made by Republican Sens. Mike Lee, James Lank and Marco Rubio that would have added various religious and private business protections to the bill. None of those amendments passed.
The bill as passed, would guarantee federal recognition of any marriage between two individuals if the union was valid in the state where it was performed.
It would also require states to accept the legitimacy of a valid marriage performed elsewhere but not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its own law.
If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its 2015 law legalizing same-sex marriage and previous state prohibitions on same-sex marriage came back into effect, the Respect for Marriage Act would require states and the federal government to respect marriages conducted in places where it is legal, but not require states to facilitate these marriages.
People or groups would not be legally required to provide services for a wedding ceremony or celebration if it’s against their religious beliefs. It also would not recognize polygamous unions.
Lummis supported an amendment to the bill ensuring religious liberty protections, which passed. Lummis and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. conducted a colloquy on the legislation after its passage, a performance which Lummis said in a press release was, “to ensure courts interpret the Respect for Marriage Act in a manner that protects religious liberty.”
“The amendment I cosponsored ensures religious organizations are protected from government retaliation and the tax-exempt status of non-profit religious organizations is not impacted in any way,” Lummis said. “Additionally, the Wyoming Constitution protects the political equality of all people, and I believe this legislation is in line with that protection.”