Editor’s Note: Gavin Smith is a public relations professional and political strategist. He is CEO of Gavin James Public Affairs, a public relations and marketing consulting firm in Lexington, South Carolina. During the Trump administration he served as press secretary for the Department of Labor and deputy communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services. The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Republicans pride ourselves for our focus on the family, a theme emphasized at conventions, while campaigning, and during speeches at political rallies.
We’re now about to find out just how fundamental Republican family values really are.
The Senate is poised to hold a vote on a measure designed to ensure that all families enjoy the same rights, and Republicans in the chamber will reveal whether they believe the GOP is truly the party of all families – or only ones championed by conservatives.
In the coming days, the Senate appears likely to hold a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed last week in the House. The measure aims to codify marriage equality protections for same-sex and interracial couples.
The bill was introduced by Democrats after Justice Clarence Thomas, in his opinion concurring with last month’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, suggested that Court rulings protecting same-sex marriage and contraception protections should be revisited as well.
The Respect for Marriage Act is meant to forestall any chance that the court could overturn its landmark 2015 Obergefell ruling. It would safeguard the right to same-sex marriage nationwide, and would enact additional legal safeguards for married couples intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.
The bill passed the House last week 267 to 157, with 47 Republicans joining with Democrats. In the Senate, it needs at least 10 Republican votes to attain a filibuster-proof majority.
That means that the fate of the legislation ultimately lies in the hands of Republican senators.
For gay Republicans like me, it sometimes seems that conservatives have gone out of their way to embrace policies that are unfriendly to LGBTQ families. I’m thinking here of so-called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that restricts teacher from being able to discuss issues of gender and sexuality in the classroom; and the Texas GOP’s adoption of a draconian platform that gutted LGBTQ+ rights and labeled the community as “abnormal.”
Such measures are hard to make sense of, given the growing public support for same-sex marriage. A recent Gallup poll found that support for same-sex marriage is up by 15% since it became the law of the land in 2015, with an overwhelming 70% of Americans approving. The same poll found 55% Republican support for same-sex marriage.
Republicans in the Senate insist that there’s nothing to worry about because gay marriage is “settled law.” If that’s the case, they should vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act and put the issue to bed once and for all. Regardless of whether they think a vote is needed – or how unlikely they think it is that the Supreme Court overturns its decision legalizing same-sex marriage – voting yes would signal the Republican Party is unwilling to leave these rights up to chance.
An affirmative vote on the Respect for Marriage Act affords the GOP with a golden opportunity to show that the party stands firmly behind equal protection under the law for all Americans – and behind keeping marriages like mine and my husband’s legal.
Not only is supporting the Respect for Marriage Act a morally principled move, it’s politically smart. With the current Democratic administration floundering in the eyes of many Americans, Republicans have an opportunity to make substantial gains in the midterm elections this year – if they don’t mess things up by alienating moderate voters.
Against a backdrop of an economy that appears to be spiraling downward while interest rates ratchet higher, and amid runaway inflation, Americans appear ready to look for an alternative to Democratic policies.
GOP senators voting against the Respect for Marriage Act would only give Democrats fuel for their narrative that the Republican party is comprised of anti-gay bigots. And voting in favor of the measure would send a signal to LGBTQ+ Americans that there is a place for them in a “big tent” Republican party. It would also appeal to their friends and family, who are paying close attention to such votes. And many are likely to cast their ballots accordingly come November.
Our party has a choice to make. Will we continue to allow far-right conservatives to drive our decisions – and drive voters into the arms of Democrats – or will we once and for all take a stand on supporting the LGBTQ+ community?
LGBTQ+ people are a part of the fabric of this country – and of the Republican party. We love, and are loved by our parents, siblings and friends. We shouldn’t have to continually defend our rights to enjoy the same protections enjoyed by other Americans.
Republicans now have an opportunity – one they can’t afford to pass up – to show just how big our party’s tent really is.