More than 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage, according to a Gallup poll conducted in May. More than 90% of Americans think birth control is morally acceptable, according to Gallup. Yet on bills recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, R-Saratoga Rep. Elise Stefanik voted against much of her party in support of same-sex marriage, as she joined a strong majority of his party in a vote against protecting access to contraception.
The bills were introduced by Democrats following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women‘s Health Organization, which overthrew Roe V. Wade. The ruling included an opinion from Judge Clarence Thomas that appeared to question the future of same-sex marriage and access to contraception.
Initially, Stefanik’s “yes” vote on the Respect for Marriage Act surprised Angela D. Ledford, professor of political theory at Saint Rose College and resident professor at the New York State Assembly. “But then the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense.”
Regional political science professors say there are likely many motivating factors behind Stefanik’s votes, with Republican leaders’ less fervent opposition to the Respect for Marriage Act helping pave the way for Stefanik’s yes vote. Yet Stefanik’s decision to vote against a majority of his fellow Republican House members on the same-sex marriage bill and to vote with his party against a bill guaranteeing access to contraception in says a lot about GOP priorities and offers possible insight into Stefanik’s personal life. political opinions and ambitions, say the professors.
“This perhaps suggests that the role public opinion plays is solely on the issue for the Republican Party,” said Zoe M. Oxley, a professor of political science at Union College.
The Right to Contraception Act would create protections for an individual’s right to access — and a health care provider’s right to provide — contraception and related information. In general, it prohibits measures that single out and hinder access to contraception. The bill passed the House 228 to 195, with eight Republicans voting in favor, though it went nowhere in the US Senate. Stefanik voted no on the House bill, saying she was against specific drugs that would be available.
“The House Democrats’ bill allows drugs not approved by the FDA, which significantly endangers women’s health and sends taxpayer funds to far-left abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. I am proudly pro-life and have helped expand access to FDA-approved over-the-counter contraception,” Stefanik said in a statement, which noted that she has co-sponsored other bills aimed at promote better access to safe contraception. “I am a co-sponsor of legislation to support FDA-approved contraception to protect women’s health.”
Meanwhile, the Respect for Marriage Act would give legal authority to same-sex and interracial marriages by repealing and replacing provisions in federal law that define marriage between a man and a woman and the spouse as a person of the opposite sex. , by provisions that recognize any marriage as valid under state law. The Respect for Marriage Act passed the House 267-157, with 47 Republicans, including Stefanik, joining Democrats in support.
To triumph over a filibuster, the bill will need 60 U.S. senators to vote yes, which likely means at least 10 Senate Republicans would need to vote in favor of the bill. It is not yet clear whether the Democrats have the votes in the Senate.
Stefanik defends his support for the Respect for Marriage Act as part of a commitment that state laws are universally recognized.
“Reputy Elise Stefanik’s vote for HR 8404 is consistent with her view on how states should respect concealed carry permits and spousal licenses for military families,” said Palmer Brigham, spokesperson for Stefanik. “Just as she believes concealed carry licenses should be recognized state to state, this bill will ensure that if a marriage is recognized in one state, it is recognized in another.”
New York Times reports revealed that House Republican leaders did not get votes before the Respect for Marriage Act was debated. This effectively gave members more freedom, said Christopher B. Mann, an associate professor of political science at Skidmore College.
Ledford said the contrast between the vote for gay rights and the vote on contraception signals divergent paths for big, emotionally charged social issues that have dominated politics for decades. Gay marriage saw relatively rapid adoption from the origins of the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but women’s rights seemed to languish, especially after the Dobbs decision, which dramatically curtailed access to marriage. abortion in America, said Ledford.
“We cannot underestimate the role that deep-rooted misogyny plays. You can even see it in [Justice Samuel] Alito’s decision. In the language used, he completely discards this idea that bodily integrity is linked to individual freedom. He just rejects it, and he doesn’t even really take it back,” Ledford said. “No one ever claims to be misogynistic or racist, but to say that these things aren’t deeply ingrained in our beliefs and in our mores and practices – I don’t want to minimize that.”
In modern history, conservative white women have consistently undermined women’s rights — look no further than the work of Phyllis Schlafly against the Equal Rights Amendment, Ledford said.
“Women can also be misogynistic, in ways they don’t recognize,” Ledford said. “Especially white women who gain access to power through white men.”
Meanwhile, same-sex marriage has been a way for conservatives with traditional family values to support gay rights, Ledford said. Conservatives can accept same-sex monogamous relationships, in which the couple raise children in a single-family home, because that life resembles their own and doesn’t require conservatives to allow other facets of the LGBTQ+ community, Ledford said. .
Mann said Stefanik’s vote on the respect for marriage bill could also be a nod to political donors, especially those in the GOP who focus on pro-corporate policies. The Skidmore professor said business-minded Republicans often support same-sex marriage because undoing it could create a logistical headache for companies that provide employee benefits in different states.
“When same-sex marriage wasn’t recognized anywhere, it was fine with corporate America. When it became unequal, it was a nightmare for corporate America,” Mann said. [for corporate America] it is that the rules are the same and that they are stable. Revisiting this patchwork idea, especially when corporate America is already angry at being caught in the crossfire of the abortion issue – but on something that is potentially hugely disruptive to their workplaces, their workforce, their health benefits, and that they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t – they don’t want another fight like this.
Another possibility is that Stefanik, 38, is from a generation that broadly supports LGBTQ+ rights, and she wanted to vote with her personal opinion and the opinions of most Americans in mind, Mann said. It’s also a question that garners little more than a collective shrug from Republican voters in upstate New York, he said. “It’s also entirely possible that this was a vote of personal conscience for Elise Stefanik.”
Stefanik was quieter on his yes vote on the Respect for Marriage Act compared to other issues, such as concerns about inflation, support for milk choice in New York public schools and his strong opposition to abortion, about which his office sends out regular press releases.
“It could mean that there are certain issues that Stefanik is preparing to campaign on, and that the vote on the Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t align with the issues that she wants to highlight,” Oxley said. “She may be focusing on some issues for the Republican Party nationally.”
Currently the third-largest Republican in the House of Representatives, Stefanik’s name has been regularly included in conversations about former President Donald Trump’s potential running mate in 2024. So far, Stefanik has been largely vacillating, though that she is no stranger to Mar-a-Lago and that she speaks favorably of the former president. Stefanik also supported the annulment of the 2020 election results.
Stefanik’s political ambitions are why, regardless of the matrix of factors that ultimately drove his yes vote for the same-sex marriage bill, the vote is clearly part of a complicated political calculation, said professors.
As Ledford put it: “I think it won’t be long before we see her vying for a much higher position.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter at UpstateWaite.
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