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Same-sex marriage, birth control on House voting agenda


An opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last month openly questioned whether the court “should reconsider” rulings that guaranteed access to birth control and same-sex couples’ right to marriage — two issues many Americans have viewed as settled law.

Thomas’s opinion — filed as a concurrence to the Supreme Court ruling that overturned federal abortion protections in Roe v. Wade — has now opened the door for congressional Democrats to attempt to draw a sharp contrast between themselves and Republicans ahead of the fall midterm elections.

House Democrats this week will push Republicans to go on the record starting on Tuesday with votes that would give same-sex and interracial marriages federal protection and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The House will also vote later in the week on legislation that would protect access to birth control and protect health-care providers from penalties for administering it.

This week’s votes come on the heels of a House vote last week codifying the abortion protections enshrined in the Roe v. Wade ruling and granting protections to people who travel out of state to obtain an abortion. The latter gained support of just three Republicans — two of whom are not seeking reelection.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is at risk of losing her reelection in a state where abortion is legal, attempted to force a vote by unanimous consent, a dramatic tactic to send a message on legislation that doesn’t have the votes, on a freedom to travel bill last week. It was blocked by Republicans.

House Democrats tee up votes on same-sex marriage, contraception rights

While those bills won’t garner the support of 10 Senate Republicans to become law, it’s possible this week’s legislation related to same-sex marriage and interracial marriage, as well as birth control, could become law — potentially undercutting Democrats’ hope to differentiate their party as the one protecting personal freedoms.

But some Democrats say it’s worth putting Republicans on the record, even if the legislation doesn’t pass the Senate, painting those who vote against the legislation as extremists who want to control personal decisions, according to several House Democratic aides.

“I’m not going to worry about whether that’s going to undercut Democratic messaging in the midterms and all that stuff. I’ll be thrilled if that happens,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said. “I would be delighted if we have that problem.”

It’s a different position taken by House Democratic “front-liners” — the title given to the most vulnerable legislators representing swing districts, who spent most of last year decrying leadership’s attempts to pass bills that would never be taken up by the Senate and could hurt their reelection chances. But Democratic lawmakers and aides this week said voting on these bills will only bolster their argument that Republicans will work to erode freedoms even further in a GOP majority.

“I don’t think these are messaging bills. I believe these are genuinely necessary bills,” Wild said. “I think it would be negligent of us, it would be malpractice, if we didn’t take these bills up.”

Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), who also represents a competitive district, said Democrats must make clear to voters just what is on the line if Republicans take back the House.

“People need to have made clear, you know, that ultimately Congress is going to have the ability to weigh in on this on a national level, which would eliminate what Nevada did and that [Republicans are] not going to stop at that,” she said.

Abortion is banned in these states. See where laws have changed.

While still expressing their disappointment at the Supreme Court ruling, Democrats have predicted overturning abortion access could give them a lift with voters. A New York Times/Siena College poll of registered voters this month saw majority support for abortion access increase since September 2020, from 60 percent to 65 percent.

But the same poll also showed that their argument may not break through as much as Democrats hope. Among registered voters, abortion ranked fifth behind crime, gun policies and the economy as the issues guiding their vote in November. Inflation and cost of living was the top issue of concern.

Several Republican aides and campaign strategists highlighted that and similar polling Monday, noting voters are more concerned about other issues Democrats have not been able to address.

The votes this week still present a tricky spot for Republicans, many of whom want to avoid debating what they, too, deem noncontroversial issues.

Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), who is up for reelection but easily won his primary earlier this summer, was surprised by a question about possibly voting on federally protecting marriage equality and contraception.

“I just didn’t know that this was an issue that was likely to be before Congress,” he said. “I’ll speak to my colleagues, but it’s a serious issue to, you know, millions of Americans, myself included.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) likewise said she feels “pretty strongly about making sure women have contraception.” Ernst introduced legislation in 2019 that would expand access to over-the-counter contraception without a prescription and allow for people to pay for it with their Health Savings Accounts.

But she was noncommittal about voting for federal protections for contraception, saying it perhaps should be up to the states. “I don’t think states will go that far,” she added.

House Republicans have not introduced any legislation that would bar access to birth control or in vitro fertilization. Several GOP aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said there is little support for voting on issues that are widely supported by voters, like access to birth control, because it could put their members in a vulnerable position.

House GOP women are a crucial piece of party’s next move on abortion

But Republicans are still prepared to argue against both bills this week.

During a House Rules hearing on the contraception legislation Monday, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) both said they support access to contraception and are willing to work with Democrats to find a compromise bill. But both accused Democrats of putting together a bill without GOP input that, Rodgers argued, only “opens the door further to their extreme abortion-on-demand agenda.”

“I’m anxious. I have time. Let’s sit down, let’s write a bill. But this is just a big distraction,” Rodgers said.

While debating marriage equality, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) did not say whether he or other Republicans were against same-sex or interracial marriage, but rather accused Democrats of not working with Republicans and instead pushing an “unfounded fear” based on Thomas’ concurrence.

“[Thomas] simply questioned the ‘how,’ ” Roy said. “At the same time in the majority opinion, there are numerous specific mentions by the majority suggesting that the majority had no interest in touching those cases.”

Front-liners also see opportunity for the Senate to possibly pass such bills, especially after Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) co-sponsored the marriage equality legislation.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Monday that he would support putting both bills up for a floor vote once they pass the House.

“I’d like to see it brought up and I’d like to vote on it, but I can’t say that it will be scheduled. There’s just so many things and so little time,” he said.

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