Are Republicans Who Voted Against the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ Going to Now Oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Too?

There are constitutional reasons for opposing both, but there is no good excuse in opposing the protection of individual liberty and equality under the law.

Some center-left news outlets highlighted on Tuesday that Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson attended his son’s same-sex wedding a few days after voting against federal legislation that would have codified gay and interracial marriage into federal law.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw pointed out the obvious.

Indeed, many of the Republicans who voted against the Respect for Marriage Act (47 Republicans, mostly younger, supported it) recently did so in the name of federalism and believing that constitutionally, marriage is to be handled at the state level.

Each of them is correct. Constitutionally. Far better to have Republicans sworn to uphold our nation’s governing charter and the bureaucratic power it limits than Democrats who wouldn’t hesitate in steamrolling the Constitution to enforce speech codes and the Green New Deal.

The many Republicans (and Democrats) who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA) over a half-century ago, which would eventually “prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” also had fair points about the constitutionality of that legislation. 

Many believed it was not the federal government’s role to become involved in the states’ assorted discrimination laws. Many opponents of the CRA were definitely advocates of white supremacy. But many others agreed with 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater that the CRA violated states’ rights.

I am a libertarian. I am a constitutionalist. I even once agreed with Goldwater on his CRA stance for the same reasons. Pro-liberty legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano once called Goldwater “the father of American libertarianism.” I agree with him.

But I am also a Southerner. I was born in South Carolina and the Southeast United States a decade after the CRA was passed. The Southern states where segregation persisted, where white mobs could terrorize black citizens with little to no repercussions, where votes actually were suppressed along racial lines, and a black family had to carry a little green book to find out where their daughter would be allowed to go to the bathroom on a road trip… because of her race. Something she had no control over.

This was the everyday reality for black Americans of that era. They did not have equality under the law, something some state laws made sure of. They were oppressed. By the government. All the time. For decades. Centuries.

The Civil Rights Act changed that. Thank God. It wouldn’t have changed otherwise, or at least not anytime soon.

It would be difficult to find a politician of any major political party today who wants to challenge the CRA on constitutional grounds. Most Americans would not want to go back to a time when legal discrimination against minorities was permitted at any government level.

Most today find those attitudes and laws morally reprehensible.

Fortunately, there is no widespread cultural or political movement right now to outright ban same-sex marriage at the federal level—as there was in the 1990s with President Bill Clinton’s ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ (DOMA)—in which Washington politicians took powers away from states to make a federal decision about marriage law in the United States.

No doubt, some Republicans who voted for the DOMA also opposed the Respect for Marriage Act recently on constitutional grounds—which is pure hypocrisy if protecting federalism is your stance.

If one truly believes marriage is constitutionally a state decision, then overturning DOMA, which is what the Respect for Marriage Act would do, is still the correct vote to take. (It’s still technically on the books, even though the Supreme Court struck it down, so it would be revived if the court ever changed its ruling.)

Protecting gay men and women’s right to marriage nationwide—in which they can get married in one state and be recognized as such in all 50 states—is as right to do today as it was in the 1960s when racial minorities were under constant threat in a variety of states. There also does not need to be an impending threat to understand the concept and necessity of equality under the law.

While there are problems that still plague black Americans, those problems are typically different in scope and kind than what they faced prior to the CRA. Gay Americans have their own unique hurdles still, but being worried about their marriage status in different states should not be one of them.

This is basic stuff.

Federal laws are not made by courts or executive orders, but by Congress, as the Constitution intended. What laws Washington should make, also thank God, are limited by our Constitution. But the overall point is to protect individual rights and equality under the law. 

This is exactly what the Respect for Marriage Act would do. Permanently.

Much of American culture, especially the South, was not ready for the CRA when it happened. Some places in the U.S. are still resistant to same-sex marriage. I am certainly not suggesting that religious Americans who object to gay marriage still won’t have the liberty to do so. That would be unconstitutional.

But with each example, there was never a question on which way the culture was going. The direction was always clear, whether it was the civil rights movement of the ‘60s or the mainstreaming of LGBT Americans today. 

Legislating according to which way the popular culture goes is not a goal and could be dangerous. Mob rule is the opposite of constitutional law.

But culture is a factor. For America, gay people are here, they’re queer, and America is beyond used to it.

These are not new questions for the Right. I am a libertarian because I believe the libertarian solution is typically the best one in most situations. I’m a strict constitutionalist for the same reason.

But there is no perfect political philosophy that is the be-all, end-all in all situations. Which positions allow more liberty must be a factor, too. 

Being gay is not a choice. Being black is not a choice. Discriminating against either and not allowing them the same rights and privileges as all other Americans is an affront to our most basic liberties.

A court decision is not enough. Congress should do its job. We should be for individual rights and equality before the law. Including for gay Americans.

Including Republicans.

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Jack Hunter
Jack Hunterhttp://LibertyTree.com
Jack Hunter is a freelance writer, the co-author of Sen. Rand Paul’s 2011 book ‘The Tea Party Goes to Washington’ and the editor of the libertarian news site Liberty Tree, published by Sen. Paul’s campaign.

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