GOP Congresswoman Tears Up While Urging Vote Against Marriage Equality

Vicky Hartzler
Vicky Hartzler

Anti-LGBTQ+ U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri started crying on the House floor Thursday as she begged her fellow representatives to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act, which will write marriage equality into federal law.

“I’ll tell you my priorities,” said Hartzler, a Republican. “Protect religious liberty. Protect people of faith. And protect Americans who believe in a true meaning of marriage. I hope and pray that my colleagues find the courage to join me in opposing this misguided and this dangerous bill.” She teared up toward the end of her remarks.

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The House nonetheless passed the act, which will protect same-sex and interracial married couples even if the Supreme Court overturns its 2015 marriage equality ruling. Justice Clarence Thomas has called for the court to do just that if an appropriate case comes up. It will assure that the federal government recognizes these marriages and that states recognize those performed in other states, although it doesn’t require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry within its borders, as now required under the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.

The bill will also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which has not been enforceable since the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in Windsor v. U.S. in 2013 but remains on the books. It denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to such marriages from other states.

And it will bar anyone acting under a state law from denying full faith and credit to a marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the spouses. The U.S. attorney general would have the power to enforce this, and anyone harmed by such a denial would have a right to sue.

After the House passed an earlier version of the act this summer, the Senate added an amendment to allay concerns that the legislation would interfere with religious liberty. The amendment confirms that no nonprofit religious organization would have to provide goods, services, or facilities for wedding ceremonies or receptions, and it clarifies that the federal government would not have to recognize polygamous marriages. Thursday’s House vote was on the newest version of the bill, which had been passed by the Senate in November with the amendment, and with the vote it now goes to President Joe Biden, who has promised to sign it into law.

Some Republican senators had proposed more restrictive amendments, all aimed at limiting legal action against people or entities for discrimination. The Senate rejected those.

In the Senate, 12 Republicans joined all the Democrats present in voting for the act, and Thursday in the House, 39 Republicans joined all Democrats in approving the bill — but definitely not Hartzler.

She has a long anti-LGBTQ+ record. Back in 2011, in her first term in the U.S. House, she told a gay student who questioned her at a town meeting in Missouri that he shouldn’t worry about bans on same-sex marriage. When Missouri amended its state constitution to include such a ban in 2004, it was merely maintaining the status quo, she said.

The student also asked Hartzler about a comment she had made warning that letting same-sex couples marry would be like letting 3-year-olds drive cars. She insisted that the remark, which was recorded on video, “was really taken out of context.”

More recently, she has targeted transgender people. In July 2017, shortly before Donald Trump announced his trans military ban, she proposed an amendment to a defense spending bill that would prevent the government from funding transition-related health care for troops. It was narrowly rejected by the House, with more than 20 Republicans voting against it. Earlier, she had proposed another amendment, this one to reverse the Obama administration’s lifting of the ban on trans troops, but withdrew it while making a plea to Defense Secretary James Mattis “to take the steps to restore readiness and make sure we don’t waste precious tax dollars” — in other words, reinstate the ban. She also voiced concern about cisgender military members showering with trans people.