Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) gave an impassioned speech Tuesday in support of marriage equality protections, a position that garnered her praise from Democrats and “brutal” criticism from social conservatives.
“I — and many like me — have been vilified 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 hateful speech to make sure that I — and others who believe as I do — that we are hated and despised by them.”
She noted that the days following her decision to support the Respect for Marriage Act, which the Senate passed with bipartisan support on Tuesday, were “fairly brutal, self-soul-searching [and] entirely avoidable, I might add, had I simply chosen to vote no.”
The bill codifies protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, a move aimed at protecting people’s civil rights in the event the U.S. Supreme Court moves to overturn 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 she voted to advance the bill with 11 of her GOP colleagues earlier this month. The senator hails from a deeply red state, and she is likewise 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 electoral results on Jan. 6, 2021, based on false allegations of election fraud.
Lummis emphasized that the marriage legislation was carefully crafted to protect people’s religious freedom despite what its critics argued, and she said America is due for some compassion and acceptance of other people’s differences.
“These are turbulent times for our nation,” said the Wyoming Republican. “Americans address each other in more crude and cruel terms than ever in my lifetime. It is jarring and unbecoming of us as human beings. It is highly intolerant and frequently the most so when expressed by those who advocate for tolerance. Many of us ask ourselves, our nation is so divided, when will this end? And how will it end?”
Her comments drew praise from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“That was an outstanding statement,” Durbin said after she spoke. “I’m sure your position has not been an easy one at home, but it reflects some thoughtful consideration on your part. Most importantly, it reflects your appeal to us in this chamber and to the nation to really seize this opportunity for tolerance.”
Lummis also got a hug from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of the Senate and a main sponsor of the legislation.
HuffPost caught up with Lummis after the vote and asked her about the response she’d received.
“This was a tough one,” she said, citing a flood of calls and letters to her office from people who were “extremely disappointed in me and disagree strongly with me.”
The Federalist, a conservative website, singled out Lummis in particular in recent days over her stance in support of the legislation. “Even the Never Trumper Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Wyoming’s senior Sen. John Barrasso voted against bringing the outrageously named ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ to the floor. They know gaslighting when they see it. How did Lummis miss the memo?” wrote Federalist contributor and pastor Jonathan Lange.
Lummis said her decision was guided in part by America’s early founders, including Roger Williams, a minister who founded Rhode Island and who advocated for religious freedom and tolerance.
“The concern that people have expressed to me is that my views run counter to God’s definition of marriage,” she said. “And I’ve tried to distinguish the fact that I support God’s definition of marriage but now there’s a second definition of marriage ― it is secular and established by the [Supreme Court] Obergefell decision ― and it deserves respect, too.
She added: “I hope that message will resonate. So far it’s been a tough sell.”