Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) delivered an impassioned speech Tuesday in support of marriage equality protections, a position that earned her praise from Democrats and “brutal” criticism from social conservatives.
“I, and many like me, have been reviled and despised by some who disagree with our beliefs,” Lummis said on the Senate floor. “They do not withhold bitter invective. They use their own hate speech to make sure that I, and others who believe like me, are hated and despised by them.”
He noted that the days after his decision to support the Respect for Marriage Act, which the Senate passed with bipartisan support Tuesday, were “pretty brutal, self-deprecating.” [and] totally avoidable, I might add, if I had simply chosen to vote no.”
The bill codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, a measure intended to protect people’s civil rights in the event the US Supreme Court overturns marriage equality decisions in the future. The House is expected to pass the bill as soon as this week and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Lummis surprised many in Washington when he voted to promote the bill with 11 of his fellow Republicans earlier this month. The senator hails from a deeply Republican state, and she is also socially conservative on many issues. Lummis, the first woman to represent Wyoming in the Senate when she was elected in 2020, voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s presidential election results on January 6, 2021, based on false allegations of voter fraud.
Lummis stressed that the marriage law was carefully crafted to protect people’s religious freedom despite what its critics argued, and said the United States must have some compassion and acceptance of other people’s differences.
“These are turbulent times for our nation,” the Wyoming Republican said. “Americans address each other in cruder and crueler terms than ever in my life. It’s jarring and unlike us as human beings. It is highly intolerant and often more so when expressed by those who advocate tolerance. Many of us wonder, our nation is so divided, when will this end? And how will it end?
His comments drew praise from Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“That was an outstanding statement,” Durbin said after speaking. “I’m sure his position hasn’t been easy at home, but it reflects thoughtful consideration on his part. More importantly, it reflects his call to us in this chamber and to the nation to really seize this opportunity for tolerance.”
Lummis also received a hug from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of the Senate and a primary sponsor of the legislation.
HuffPost caught up with Lummis after the vote and asked him about the response he received.
“This was a tough question,” he said, citing a deluge of calls and letters to his office from people who were “extremely disappointed in me and strongly disagreed with me.”
The Federalist, a conservative website, singled out Lummis in particular in recent days for his stance in support of the legislation. “Even Never Trumper Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ranking Wyoming Senator John Barrasso voted against bringing the outrageously named ‘Respect Marriage Act’ to the floor. They know gaslighting when they see it. How come Lummis missed the memo? wrote contributor and Federalist pastor Jonathan Lange.
Lummis said his decision was guided in part by America’s early founders, including Roger Williams, a minister who founded Rhode Island and advocated for religious freedom and tolerance.
“The concern that people have expressed to me is that my views go against God’s definition of marriage,” he said. “And I’ve tried to sort out the fact that I support God’s definition of marriage, but now there’s a second definition of marriage: it’s secular and established by the [Supreme Court] Obergefell’s decision, and also deserves respect.
She added: “I hope that message resonates. So far it’s been a tough sell.”