Republican Senator Lindsey Graham fed the fears of Democrats and the left in general on Sunday during an interview on CNN in which he argued for the end of federal protections for gay marriage rights.
The South Carolina senator appeared on State of the Union aside Sen Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, for a rare bipartisan interview/debate. The conversation took place as the Senate continued a marathon “vote-a-rama” session that began Saturday afternoon and was still chugging along approaching noon on Sunday.
At one point in the interview, Mr Graham made clear that the conservative supermajority within SCOTUS could overturn other precedents like the Obergefell v Hodges case, which during the Obama administration nullified state laws banning same-sex marriage.
Asked directly if he was saying it should be overturned, Mr Graham said “no, I’m saying that I don’t think it’s going to be overturned,” he said, though his voice clearly left open the idea that it could be.
“Nor should it be?” asked CNN’s Dana Bash.
“Well, that would be up to the Court,” he responded, before adding: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage.”
Ms Bash then asked him how many more issues he believes that should expand to, bringing up the case of Loving vs Virginia, which established interracial marriage as a federally-protected right.
The Republican senator responded “no, no” when asked if he was suggesting that precedent should be revisited, and pivoted away quickly to blame Democrats for talking about issues he said were not relevant to current problems facing Americans.
The left has been raising the alarms about conservatives seeking to do just that, warning that precedents affirming the constitutionality of affirmative action and protecting the rights to gay marriage and even interracial marriage could be next as the Supreme Court makes a hard pivot to the right thanks to three Trump-appointed conservative justices.
But Mr Graham insisted that Democrats worrying about such things were “talking about things that are not happening because you don’t want to talk about inflation” and other issues.
“We’re talking about constitutional decisions that are still in effect. But if you’re going to ask me to have the federal government take over defining marriage, I’m going to say no,” said Mr Graham.
"But if you're going to ask me to have the federal government take over defining marriage, I'm going to say no."
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says debates over SCOTUS striking down abortion and potentially marriage equality is just politics and should be state issues pic.twitter.com/AXkK4OTK2B
— The Recount (@therecount) August 7, 2022
His open admission that he hopes the Court will overturn that precedent conflicts with his assertion that efforts to overturn the right to same-sex marriage are “not happening”. All that would be required for the Court to take up Obergefell again would be a Republican attorney general willing to defend a law on their state’s books that explicitly prohibits and refuses to recognise same-sex marriages as valid, and for the inevitable lawsuit that follows to reach the level where it can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
States like Texas and Florida have been eager to push forward on the conservative culture war front under the Biden administration; Texas’s Supreme Court took up a case challenging the constitutionality of benefits for same-sex couples as recently as 2017.
Democrats have pushed for votes to codify abortion rights, gay marriage rights and contraception rights in Congress following the repeal of Roe vs Wade this year but as of yet have not been able to push such legislation through the 50-50 Senate where it would require 60 votes to break the filibuster.