Neal Dunn, Al Lawson on different sides of U.S. House Bill to codify same-sex marriage

Tallahassee Democrat
Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee’s two congressmen disagree on whether the federal government should protect interracial and same sex marriages.

Tuesday, Democrat Al Lawson voted to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a measure defining a marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Republican Neal Dunn voted to reject the measure.

The House sent the bill to the Senate on a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans, six from Florida, joining with Democrats to require federal law to recognize a marriage if it is legal in the state where it took place.

Lawson told the Tallahassee Democrat the bill is needed because a Supreme Court that had overturned a right to an abortion is now poised to take away other civil rights.

“The court severely weakened the Constitutional right to privacy. Now, right-wing extremists are leading a cruel assault on even more of Floridians’ cherished and hard-won freedoms, including the right to marry the person they love,” said Lawson.

Dunn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ten Florida Republicans voted no, six voted yes, mirroring the apparent division within the national GOP. A third of the Republican caucus crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats.

Vote will likely play into election battle

Lawson and Dunn’s current districts meet in Tallahassee near Railroad Square. But the Republican Legislature eliminated Lawson’s minority-access seat and voters were distributed across four districts. All of Tallahassee was placed in Congressional District 2.

Now, Dunn and Lawson will compete on the November ballot for Tallahassee’s lone congressional seat and the vote will almost certainly become a campaign issue.

The new CD 2 supported former President Donald Trump by 11 points – down from the old CD 2, which Trump won by 35 points.

Although a decidedly red, the new CD 2 takes in Gadsden County, the state’s only minority-majority county, and adds parts of Leon County and a slew of North Florida counties Lawson had represented in the Florida Legislature for 28 years, and then another six in Congress.

Both Dunn and Lawson were first elected to Congress in 2016. The marriage vote is the second culture war issue to divide the local congressmen recently.

In April, Dunn joined with Republicans to block, temporarily, the naming of the federal courthouse in Tallahassee for Judge Joseph Hatchett because of a prayer-in-school opinion Hatchett wrote in the 1990s.

The Hatchett vote drew a heartfelt plea from the Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor of a Black historic-Tallahassee congregation, for Dunn to reconsider the vote, given the change in CD 2 demographics.

When the measure was reconsidered, both Lawson and Dunn were yes votes.

But Tuesday they were on opposite sides.

Marriage fight heads to Senate

Dunn stood with fellow North Floridian Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton, and cast a vote indicating he was willing to entertain a suggestion by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit other rulings, including those on gay marriage and access to contraception.

Gaetz took to Twitter to explain his vote was about federalism and not sexual orientation or race. He ridiculed the Respect for Marriage Act as an erroneously named measure and Democrats for going into a “fit of hysteria” over Thomas’ opinion.

Like access to an abortion, same-sex marriage is legal because of a Supreme Court decision and not by a federal law.

“The millions of same-sex and interracial couples throughout the country should not have to live with the fear that extremist Supreme Court justices could end legal recognition for their families or prevent millions of others from being able to build families with equal legal status,” said Lawson.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced a Senate bill to protect same-sex marriage.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, along with Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and prohibit any state to refuse to recognize an out-of-state marriage based on the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the individuals.

How Florida’s Congressional delegation voted on the Respect for Marriage Act.

Who voted No

  • Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs
  • Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key
  • Byron Donalds, R-Naples
  • Neal Dunn, R-Panama City
  • Scott C. Franklin, R-Lakeland
  • Matt Gaetz, R-Pensacola
  • Bill Posey, R-Melbourne
  • John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville
  • Greg Steube, R-Sarasota
  • Daniel Webster, R-Inverness

Who voted Yes

  • Kat Cammack, R-Gainesville
  • Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Doral
  • Carols A. Gimenez, R-Miami
  • Brian J. Mast, R-Stuart
  • Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Miami
  • Michael Waltz, R-Port Orange
  • Kathy Castor, D-Tampa
  • Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-West Palm Beach
  • Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg
  • Val Butler Demings, D-Orlando
  • Theodore E. Deutch, D-Coral Springs
  • Lois Frankel, D-Boca Raton
  • Al Lawson, D-Jacksonville
  • Stephanie Murphy, D-Sanford
  • Darren Soto, D-Haines City
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Sunrise
  • Frederica Wilson, D-Hollywood

Source: Roll call for House votes can be found on the U.S. House of Representatives website

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Neal Dunn, Al Lawson on different sides of U.S. House Bill to codify same-sex marriage

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