Ex-House Member Who Voted To Ban Same-Sex Marriage Now Urges GOP To Support It

A former Republican House member who voted to ban same-sex marriage in 1996 is telling his ex-colleagues to now vote in favor of it as “the right thing to do.”

Jim Kolbe, who represented Arizona for 11 terms from 1985 to 2007, said he’s now a registered independent and has been married to partner Hector Alfonso since 2013.

He told HuffPost in an interview that he wonders what would happen to his own marriage if, like the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade abortion precedent, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage was struck down.

“We have had gay marriage for the better part of a decade, and there are many families that have been formed with this and people have had children with this,” Kolbe said.

“The idea of taking away that right is almost impossible to contemplate. I don’t know how you’d even go about it. Would you dissolve their marriages or what?”

In his concurring opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said other precedents like Obergefell should be reexamined, setting off alarms from supporters of marriage equality.

Democrats in the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act in July to guarantee the right to same-sex marriage. To some surprise, it garnered 47 Republican votes, which gave it momentum as it headed to the Senate.

But the bill has stalled there, unable to gain at least 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Same-sex marriage backers announced Thursday they were putting off seeking a floor vote until after the November midterm elections. Whether that will make it easier to pass by taking it off the midterm political field, as backers claim, remains to be seen.

For Kolbe, his stance is 180 degrees from the one he took in 1996, when he and 223 fellow House Republicans voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage and was overturned by the court’s Obergefell decision. While he cited states’ rights concerns at the time, it’s a vote he now regrets and led to his being outed.

Kolbe had a reputation as a solid conservative, but was hiding his sexual identity. After the vote, the LGBTQ magazine The Advocate informed him it planned a story about his sexual orientation in its next issue, he said. Kolbe, knowing he had a few weeks before publication, said he decided to come out publicly.

Asked if it was a painful experience, Kolbe said, “It was, until it happened.”

Once he knew about the impending article he said he felt a great sense of calm and an almost physical weight lift from his shoulders.

“I said, ‘That’s over — I’m never going to have to deal with this again,’” he recounted.

He gave a lengthy news conference back in Arizona, answered questions and was reelected by nearly the same margin as his pre-disclosure tally. He voted against additional Republican attempts to oppose same-sex marriage, met his now-spouse in 2005 and retired from Congress in 2007.

“I obviously feel very passionately about this, that this is something we should do, and it’s the right thing to do,” Kolbe said.

“The idea of taking away that right is almost impossible to contemplate. I don’t know how you’d even go about it. Would you dissolve their marriages or what?”

– Former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.)

Kolbe said he accepted the judgment by proponents that it may be better to wait until after the election to bring the issue to a Senate vote.

“I could make an argument on the other side, that with an election looming, Republicans representing more moderate states and voters don’t want to be on the wrong side of another issue after Dobbs,” he said. “But it is what it is and let’s hope it doesn’t get lost in the lame duck.”

As for what he would tell his former colleagues now, Kolbe would keep it short and personal.

“I am married and I now have many friends that are married — that their marriages are successful. They’re community members, they’re active in the community, they’re forming families. And this is just the right thing to do,” he said.

“It’s a matter of giving individual liberty, of individuals, the right to choose who they want to be with, and to give them the same protections that anybody else has. So that would be the elevator pitch I would give.”

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