Over the past decade, we have witnessed steady progress in advancing LGBTQ rights. Despite broad public support, recent developments indicate that some are intent on eroding measures of progress. The time has come for Republican leaders to live up to the founding ideals of our party and nation by casting a vote in support of the Respect for Marriage Act.
The concepts of equality, freedom and limited government are firmly rooted in our republic. It doesn’t take a law degree, master’s in history or time machine to prove these facts. Evidence is easily identified inside the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
America was founded on the notion that governments are instituted to “secure” rights that preexist government. The key point for Republicans, such as myself, is that government must be limited: strong enough to protect rights, but not too strong to threaten our rights. Achieving these ends requires vigilance, responsibility and moderation.
Along the way, however, some members of the GOP sacrificed these principles to advance a rigid, outdated and broadly unpopular ideological agenda. Nowhere is this perhaps more evident, than glaring attempts to jeopardize the safety and security of the LGBTQ community.
Less than one decade ago, I was one of only a handful of Republican activists willing to stand in support of overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor; a 2013 ruling requiring federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Momentum was on our side when, only two years later, hundreds more Republicans joined an amicus brief in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that resulted in marriage bans being struck down nationwide.
In the seven years since every American was granted the freedom to marry, public acceptance of LGBTQ rights has rapidly increased. As recently as 2004, Pew Research found nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. In the years since the Obergefell decision, public support for same-sex marriage has skyrocketed. Today, more than 70% of Americans favor it, including 55% of Republicans.
June’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade casts doubt on the constitutional theory of substantive due process that recognizes “unenumerated” rights. While the majority opinion of the court held that the ruling should not “cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas called on the high court to “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” including Obergefell.
Thankfully, legislation that repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and requires states to extend “full faith and credit” to any marriage between two people is presently before the U.S. Senate. The Respect for Marriage Act would rightly enshrine the right to same-sex and interracial marriage into federal law.
Opponents have raised concerns that new legislation solidifying marriage equality could violate freedom of religion; another incredibly important part of our nation’s founding promise. The Respect for Marriage Act would codify the status quo and could not be used to force clergy to violate their religious beliefs. This law is not redefining marriage, but solidifying it as we know it today.
Even though the U.S. House passed the measure on a largely bipartisan vote (one that included six congressional Republicans from Florida), only a handful of Senate Republicans have agreed to support this bill. Sen. Marco Rubio, unfortunately, has questioned the need for such a bill and was criticized for chalking it up as a “waste of time.” I fervently hope that Sen. Rick Scott and more of his Republican colleagues are not so short-sighted and out of step with the opinion of their constituents — if for no other reason than because, as Republicans, we respect the individual and work to empower people to live free from discrimination, with as little intrusion by the government as practical.
The freedom to marry is consistent with core conservative and American values — limited government, equality and, above all, freedom for all. Republicans should work to expand and codify this freedom by ensuring the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law.
Nancy Brinker served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is a founder of The Promise Fund of Florida.