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    When Conservative Republicans Accidentally Tell the Truth

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    Late last month, Indiana Senator Mike Braun made a stunning revelation when he declared that he disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia, which struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage. At a March 22, 2022, press conference, Braun opined that it was not the role of the U.S. Supreme Court to dictate to states whether people of different races should be able to marry. It was up to each individual state to decide. “It’s a beauty of the system” of American federalism, and “differences among points of view in our 50 states ought to express themselves,” said the senator, apparently unaware of the ominous implications of his position.

    The question about interracial marriage arose after Braun expressed his hope that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade in June, leaving states to be able to ban abortion and thus force pregnant women (as well as some nonbinary, intersex, and transgender people) to remain pregnant and give birth against their will even in cases of rape or incest. That itself should be a shocking position for a U.S. Senator to take, but sadly it’s currently the predominant Republican view that many observers believe that the Republican-dominated Supreme Court will adopt.

    The reporter at the press conference presumably was incredulous that Braun expressed a similar point of view on interracial marriage and gave him a chance to clarify. The senator’s further response was unambiguous: “Yes, I think that that’s something that if you’re not wanting the Supreme Court to weigh in on issues like that, you’re not going to be able to have your cake and eat it too. I think that’s hypocritical.”

    Within hours, Braun suddenly changed his position, claiming in a written statement that he actually believed that “the Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race.” But Braun’s press conference remarks illuminate the true extent to which arch conservatives like him appear willing to go to gut the Bill of Rights to intrude on individuals’ personal liberty and dignity for political gain—except when it comes to red meat political issues that excite their base, such as gun ownership or using religion as an excuse to justify discrimination.

    Only when confronted with how politically unpalatable it was to say that states should be able to deny the right to marry to interracial couples, like Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao, did Braun change his position. Thank goodness Braun does not sit on the Supreme Court. But it’s appalling that Braun, given his statements, has a vote on whether to confirm the Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who herself is married to a person of a different race.

    Braun’s words also recall another remarkable moment of candor on the part of a Republican Hoosier: former Indiana Senator and U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle. During a 1992 appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live, Quayle, who supported a federal Constitutional amendment banning most types of abortions, praised a Pennsylvania law requiring minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion. King then asked Quayle what he would tell his own teenage daughter if she had an unwanted pregnancy and came to him for advice. Quayle responded: “Obviously I would counsel her and talk to her and support her on whatever decision she made.” When King asked whether that included her choosing an abortion, the Vice President reiterated: “I’d support my daughter.”

    The next day, Quayle’s wife Marilyn declared that, in fact, their daughter would not have an abortion and instead “take the child to term.” The Vice President himself also partially reversed course, saying that his daughter would not be allowed to have an abortion as a teenager. But strikingly, the Vice President maintained that he would support whatever choice his daughter made as an adult, even if it meant breaking the law to obtain an abortion. A prominent Republican taking such a position today is unimaginable.

    Quayle’s words starkly betray the double standard that he and many of his fellow conservative Republicans live by. For political gain, they seek to enact draconian laws that they themselves don’t think should apply to them. Indeed, well-off Republicans in states with severe abortion restrictions like Texas and Mississippi can easily travel to other states to terminate pregnancies, while poor people who are disproportionately people of color lack the means to do so, and thus suffer the full consequences of the laws.

    Trying to do damage control back in 1992, senior Bush campaign advisor Charles Black himself made a remarkable disclosure when he commented on what Quayle had said: “I thought it was a very human and personal and honest answer to the question that I would guess the majority of Americans could identify with.”

    Astonishingly, Black’s statement suggests that he and Quayle both actually believed in their Democratic opponents’ position on abortion, not their own, and thought that most Americans concurred. But to pander to their political base, Black and Quayle forsook their own values, knowing that abortion would always be available to their daughters.

    “Very human and personal and honest” responses to issues, not fear-mongering demagoguery, is what we need more of from conservative Republicans and indeed all people in government and politics. We need people on all sides of the aisle not just to accidentally tell the truth, but to do so in the first place.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on April 7, 2022