CHEYENNE – U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., voted in support of federal protections for same-sex marriage Tuesday, one of 12 Republicans to vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act as it passed 61-36 in the Senate.
She was not joined by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who has previously said in statements that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. He voted against the bill during the test vote earlier this month and again Tuesday.
“We do well by taking this step, not embracing or validating each other’s devoutly held views, but by the simple act of tolerating them,” Lummis said Tuesday on the floor of the Senate.
After being amended in the Senate, the Respect for Marriage Act will head back to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass for a second time. It was brought forward in response to concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court would reverse its 2015 decision affirming that same-sex couples have the same legal right to marry, just as it reversed the Roe v. Wade decision related to abortion in June.
The bill senators passed Tuesday repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed when Bill Clinton was president. That law defined marriage as between a man and a woman, “and spouse as a person of the opposite sex with provisions that recognize any marriage that is valid under state law.”
The new legislation also requires states to recognize any marriage that was legally conducted in any other state.
Lummis co-sponsored a substitute amendment to the bill with one Democrat and three Republican senators that “preserves and strengthens religious liberty protections beyond the current law.” She said in a statement following the vote that it “ensures religious organizations are protected from government retaliation and the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations is not impacted in any way.”
“The term marriage now has two meanings: the biblical and the secular,” Lummis said during her Senate floor speech Tuesday. “The Respect for Marriage Act, by design, references neither definition. It uses the term ‘individuals.’ The Act recognizes that both definitions exist, and codifies that marriage legally entered in one state will be legally accepted by the others.”
She said it further provides protection from persecution by a government authority toward a church and its organizations of religious instruction that adhere only to the biblical definition, which she supports.
“The Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. I accept God’s word, including God’s word as to the definition of marriage,” she said. “I support my church’s adherence to that biblical pronouncement. I support Wyoming statute, which codifies that definition. I find solace in people and organizations that share my beliefs.”
But Lummis said these are turbulent times in a divided nation. She said Amercians address each other in more crude and cruel terms than she had ever heard in her lifetime, and it was both jarring and unbecoming.
She said there were many like her who had been vilified and despised by those who disagreed with their beliefs, and “use their own hateful speech to make sure that I and others, who believe as I do, know that we are hated and despised by them. Americans on the other side of this issue can relate to ill treatment, as well.”
“When will this end, and how will it end? Just as when our nation was founded,” she said toward the conclusion of her vote explanation, “when the New World tore itself from the old, people of diverse faiths, beliefs and backgrounds had to come to terms with each other, had to tolerate the seemingly intolerable about each others’ views, and had to respect each other’s rights, even before the Constitution enumerated those rights.”
Lummis was criticized for her test vote openly by both the Wyoming GOP and the Wyoming Pastors Network. The Act was said to threaten religious liberties and ran in opposition to the Wyoming Republican Party platform adopted in May, which states that “marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman.”
In the days leading up to the vote Tuesday, the Pastors Network sent a letter to Lummis, requesting that she “reverse course” on her previous vote in support of the Respect for Marriage Act.
The Republican senator also received applause for her decision to back the legislation.
Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that the nonprofit was happy to see the senator hold up Wyoming values. The organization advocates for LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit equity in the state, and encouraged residents in the weeks leading up to the vote to make their voices heard.
“We weren’t surprised. Because by casting her vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, she recognized what the majority – by a large margin – of Wyomingites believe, which is that the government should not be able to interfere with churches, and churches should not be able to interfere with the government,” Burlingame said. “That’s a basic Wyoming value.”
Burlingame said same-sex marriage is a settled issue in Wyoming, which continues to be a leader in equality issues such as women’s right to vote and the right to marry. The state has recognized same-sex marriage since Oct. 21, 2014, after refusing to appeal the federal court decision that found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
The nonprofit director said Wyoming has not been mired in the national discourse that has pitted residents against one another, and she hopes this is an indicator that Americans are at their best when they work together on big issues.
“She’s asked for a call to tolerance, and we want to meet her there,” Burlingame said in response to the remarks made by Lummis. “That, to me, sounds like leadership. I hope that the governor will join her. I hope that other elected folks will stand up.”