Cole says he voted against gay marriage bill because it was 'rushed'

·4 min read

Jul. 24—U.S. Rep. Tom Cole cited a hasty process in his decision to vote against codifying gay and interracial marriage into the Constitution, but a political analyst in his district says politicians who are displeased with a proposed law often use this reasoning.

Cole, R-Moore, voted Wednesday against the Respect For Marriage Act, which would provide federal protection for same-sex and interracial couples and ensure marriage equality throughout the country regardless of state law. The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.

Cole was one of 157 Republican U.S. representatives — including three others from Oklahoma — who voted against the legislation. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, was absent during the vote.

In a statement from Cole's office to The Transcript Wednesday, the congressman said he regrets "the manner by which this legislation was unnecessarily rushed to the floor without any thoughtful consideration and deliberation in the committee of jurisdiction." The bill was introduced in the House two days before it was voted on the floor, records show.

"I could not support it," Cole's statement reads.

Cole's statement following the vote does not explicitly oppose gay marriage. But Allyson Shortle, a University of Oklahoma professor with a focus in political behavior, says it's not uncommon for politicians to give this reasoning against laws and policies they disagree with.

"It's just sort of the frustration of not getting your way, if that makes sense. A law that's established that you disagree with, I think you're always going to say, 'Yeah, that wasn't thought through very well,' and whether or not that's true, that's usually with some bias," Shortle said.

Cole is often seen as a more moderate conservative than many of his fellow Republicans, at least in Oklahoma's federal delegation. In an interview with The Transcript in January, he said he disapproved of politicians who use their office as a platform to score political points rather than to pass policy.

In January, he said he disagrees with Oklahoma fighting Native American tribes over the Supreme Court's McGirt ruling, which determines eastern Oklahoma was never disassociated as an Indian reservation and thus allows federal prosecution for Native defendants. He said the state fighting the tribes over the ruling "makes about as much sense as being at war with the oil and gas industry."

But Cole's opposition to gay marriage dates back nearly two decades. A September 2004 news release states Cole voted for a bill that would have added a Constitutional amendment that would have declared marriage would be a man and a woman.

"I don't break it down so much as, 'Oh, that's so confusing because it's someone who's less aligned with Trump, or who's not necessarily Marjorie Taylor Greene,'" Shortle said.

Shortle said Cole might have believed he was representing his constituents in the vote. A Pew Research poll shows slightly less than half of Oklahomans favor gay marriage.

Cole's district includes Norman, which has long been considered a more progressive area in a largely conservative state.

Jacqueline Hartley, a transgender woman in Norman, said Cole's no vote is "really not surprising," but was frustrating.

"There are vulnerable people who are living in Oklahoma, LGBTQ people, who don't really have their place in the state, and oftentimes, with the way Oklahoma is (districted), it's hard to elect representatives that fully express the most vulnerable people in Oklahoma's values," Hartley said.

Hartley said the vote to codify gay marriage comes at "a crucial time" following the Supreme Court's June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. While that case ensured abortion protections in the U.S., Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the same reasoning that led to that decision — that abortion rights was not a form of "liberty" protected in the 14th Amendment's due process clause — could be used to reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that federally protects gay marriage.

If Obergefell is overturned, there is willpower within Oklahoma's Legislature to define marriage in the state as between a man and a woman. State Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, said in June that he believes the state legislature could sue the federal government for the right to define marriage as he believes Oklahomans want it defined.