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This GOP strategist is calling on Republican senators to safeguard same-sex marriage

Many people have concerns that the Supreme Court ruling that overturned <em>Roe v. Wade</em> and the right to abortion could jeopardize other rights, such as same-sex marriage.
Jose Luis Magana
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AP
Many people have concerns that the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion could jeopardize other rights, such as same-sex marriage.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision raised fears that same-sex marriage could be the next right to fall.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion on the abortion ruling that the court should also reconsider the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Now, Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are working on a bill to codify marriage equality into law.

GOP strategist John Feehery has been working to drum up support for the bill among Senate Republicans and says that protecting same-sex marriage isn't just a good political move but a step toward the future of his party.

"I do think that ultimately you don't want to take away the ability for people to get married once you gave them that ability," Feehery told NPR. "Most Republican [voters] are focused on many other issues and will not vote against any Republican who votes for this bill."

After facing backlash over the overturning of Roe v. Wade, some Republicans in swing states and swing districts are trying to find ways to appeal to constituents who may feel frustrated with the decision. "For a lot of these senators, it takes a little bit of the edge off," Feehery told The Washington Post about supporting the same-sex marriage bill, adding that politically, the policy choice is a "no-brainer."

The Respect for Marriage Act, which was introduced in July, was drafted to repeal and replace provisions that define marriage explicitly as between a man and a woman. This legislation would require all states to recognize same-sex marriage on a federal level, and it recently passed the House with the support of 47 Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference on Sept. 7 after a policy luncheon with Senate Democrats. The Respect for Marriage Act was one of the focuses of their gathering.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference on Sept. 7 after a policy luncheon with Senate Democrats. The Respect for Marriage Act was one of the focuses of their gathering.

Now, with a Senate vote to come next, doubts are being raised about whether the 10 Republicans needed to support the bill will come forward to push it through. Feehery is confident that more than enough Republicans are willing to support it, if the right circumstances encourage it.

"I think there are more than 10. But I don't think any of these want to be the 10th," Feehery said. "So they're kind of waiting to see and then negotiating potential amendments to see if they have some wiggle room."

In July, President Biden's press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters that Biden was a strong supporter of protecting marriage equality.

"He believes it is nonnegotiable and that the Senate should act swiftly to get this to the president's desk. He wants to sign this," Jean-Pierre said.

Despite a 2021 Gallup poll finding that more than 55% of registered Republicans support same-sex marriage, Feehery said some are still staunchly opposed.

"There's a vocal minority amongst the Republican base that doesn't want this to happen," Feehery said. For some senators, Feehery said, weighing the will of their constituents against their own personal beliefs was proving to be a difficult balancing act, while others were concerned about whether the bill explicitly allows for religious exemption within the recognition of same-sex marriage.

"I think there are some valid worries here that a church will be sued if they refuse to perform a same-sex marriage in their church," Feehery said. "I think that if there's an accommodation that can be made that protects the ability of churches to practice their religion freely but also allows people legally to get into binding contracts that are recognized in all 50 states, you know, we can find that way to achieve both ends."

Advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign have mobilized thousands of their supporters and more than 170 businesses to voice their support for the bill.

In a letter directed toward the Senate and signed by business leaders at companies like Amazon, Airbnb, Nike, Microsoft and more, they argue that ensuring the protection of same-sex marriage allows them to keep their employees happy.

"A patchwork of inconsistent and discriminatory state marriage laws goes against our company values and makes it harder for us to do business and to recruit and retain top talent," the letter reads.

This widespread support, in addition to a demanding political landscape, is a key indicator to Feehery that many Republican constituents are not as concerned about this issue as people might think.

"This is not one of the top issues out there. I don't think it's going to be a huge political victory for Joe Biden," Feehery said. "I don't think it's going to change the trajectory of this election, but I think ultimately it can be the right thing to do."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.