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Bill Straub: McConnell’s vote against the ‘respect’ for his own marriage is hard to explain — so he doesn’t

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is usually as transparent as glass – whatever enhances the GOP politically, despite potential repercussions on the nation as a whole, has to come first.

This scenario has played out ad absurdum over the years, to the point where the Louisville lawmaker expressed his intent to support Donald J. Trump if old Pumpkin Skin is once again the party’s choice for president in 2024. That vow comes despite the constant and rabid evisceration McConnell has suffered from Trump and the ridicule the professional grifter has rained down on his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who, for some weirdo Trump reason, he refers to as Coco.

But this latest move is perplexing.

The Senate this week, in bipartisan fashion, took steps that would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Lawmakers passed the Respect for Marriage Act, aimed at providing safeguards for same-sex and interracial marriages in case the Supreme Court turns tail and no longer endorses such unions under the Constitution.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Potential reversal of marriage rights is not a ridiculous fear. The court’s conservative majority threw the truck into reverse earlier this year and ruled abortion was no longer a constitutional right, paying no heed to the 1972 decision in Roe declaring it so and showing that the court has no penchant for honoring precedent.

Furthermore, Justice Clarence Thomas has openly urged the high court to overturn the 2015 Obergefell ruling that established the right of gay folks to get hitched. The court, since that determination, has turned decidedly to the right, raising the possibility that the decision could come up for reconsideration.

Congress was understandably vilified by pro-choice groups for failing to codify abortion protections before the justices had a chance to kick it to the curb. Democrats don’t want to get caught flatfooted again.

“As we have already seen this year what the court has decided in the past can be easily taken away in the future,’’ said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York.”
The bill, which heads to the House where passage is expected, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, adopted in 1996, which defined marriage as existing only between a man and a woman. The measure would further protect interracial marriages by mandating that states recognize wedded bliss regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the participants.

Steps were taken in the bill to assure that the nation’s churches didn’t throw a hissy fit, affirming that religious organizations would not be required to provide services for any marriage celebration.

Respect For Marriage passed 61-36, with 12  Republicans joining 49 Democrats. It was opposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who has a long history of punching down on folks, a character flaw that became obvious when, unable to attend the Fancy Farm political picnic in August, he sent his wife, Kelley, to ridicule trans children, as if they don’t have enough to deal with.

Paul’s opposition, apparently, since he hasn’t publicly explained his rationale, comes from his view that the federal government shouldn’t be in the marriage business.

Writing in Time magazine after the Obergefell decision, Paul said, “While I disagree with the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, I believe that all Americans have the right to contract. The Constitution is silent on the question of marriage because marriage has always been a local issue. Our founding fathers went to the local courthouse to be married, not to Washington, D.C. I’ve often said I don’t want my guns or my marriage registered in Washington.”

Fine, but the thing that makes this whole rigamarole interesting is that Addison Mitchell McConnell also voted against it.

This is mind-numbing from several perspectives. Two are prominent:

• The late U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, of Louisville, helped to get the ball rolling on same-sex marriage in February 2014, finding in Bourke v. Beshear, that Kentucky was required to recognize  same-sex marriages performed in states where those unions are legal.

Heyburn went further in July of that year, declaring that same-sex couples had a right to marry in Kentucky, writing before the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, “In America, even sincere and long-hold religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted.”

Heyburn was a close and trusted McConnell confidant for years, serving as special counsel for Mitch during his tenure as Jefferson County judge-executive in the early 1980s. It was McConnell who recommended Heyburn for the federal bench in 1992.

• McConnell married Elaine Chao, the Taiwan-born daughter of a shipping magnate, who is of Chinese descent, in 1993.

That means, for almost 30 years, McConnell has, himself, been engaged in an interracial marriage.

So McConnell’s no vote essentially thumbs his nose at an old, trusted advisor and rejects his own marriage.

To cite Aretha, considering the title of the bill, he has no R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

McConnell’s rationale for this – unorthodox? – vote is open to speculation. He has not revealed his thinking, if that’s what one chooses to call it. And for some peculiar reason no one in the Kentucky media, apparently, has contacted him or his office for a rationale. The vaunted Lexington Herald-Leader didn’t even bother to report his vote the day after, at least in the subscriber edition on-line.

But that oversight can be ascribed to the fact that the University of Kentucky basketball team was playing that very night, requiring the labor of almost the entire news and sports staff to produce the necessary 100,000 stories for the following day’s edition.

The few remaining were writing about the UK football team.

For the record, I attempted to contact Robert Steurer, McConnell’s communications director, for a response, to no avail.

It also should be noted that McConnell distracted attention from his vote by making news of another sort – reacting to Trump dining with a pair of overt antisemites named Ye and Nick Fuentes, who doubles as a white supremacist, by saying, “there is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy. And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”
It’s hard to understand, frankly, why everyone is making a big deal over Trump having dinner with a couple antisemites since he eats with a bigot, racist, and antisemite when he dines alone.


Whatever the real reason, it’s likely McConnell didn’t see any political advantage in supporting the measure, even though Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs Poll conducted in May showed that 71 percent of those surveyed support same-sex marriage while backing for interracial marriage has reached 94 percent, up from 4 percent in 1958.

The answer might be religious conservatives, the last hold-outs in the same-sex marriage poll and an important GOP constituency. A coalition of prominent conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Family Research Council, sent McConnell a letter urging him to stand against the bill.

The groups described the Respect For Marriage Act “an attack on millions of Americans, particularly people of faith, who believe marriage is between one man and one woman and that legitimate distinctions exist between men and women concerning family formation that should be recognized in the law.”

It appears McConnell doesn’t want to alienate a constituency that pours money and votes in support of the Republican Party. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, a bill sponsor who claims to have a good, cross-aisle relationship with McConnell, was seen engaging him in earnest conversation, probably in a last-ditch effort to gain his vote. It didn’t succeed.

There’s convoluted thinking. Then there’s Mitch McConnell.

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