3 South Florida Republicans flip to vote ‘no’ on protection for same-sex and interracial marriages

Three Republican members of Congress from South Florida who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act in July switched their votes less than five months later, voting “no” Thursday on final passage.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which would put protections for same-sex and interracial marriages in federal law, passed the House 258 to 169 and now goes to President Joe Biden, who has said he would sign it into law.


The ‘no’ votes came from Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Brian Mast and Maria Salazar, all of whom voted yes in July.

All four South Florida Democrats — U.S. Reps. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson — voted “yes.” U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Miami, also voted for the measure. Their votes were consistent with the way they voted in July.


The proposed law would repeal the old “Defense of Marriage” law, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. It is still on the books, though it hasn’t been operative since the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in which the Supreme Court said same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The Respect for Marriage Act also requires recognition of legally performed same-sex marriages and adds legal protections for interracial marriages. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in the Loving v. Virginia case that laws banning interracial marriage violated the Constitution.

The impetus for the Respect for Marriage Act came from the June ruling in which the Supreme Court overturned the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision that for close to five decades guaranteed a constitutional right for women to have abortions.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion that said the court “should reconsider” rulings in other cases in which it has said rights are protected by the Constitution, including same-sex marriage.

“That’s an example of strategic voting. Over the summer, it appeared that voting for it would help them get votes in South Florida. Now that they’ve been reelected, they’re free to vote their consciences,” said Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University.

In the case of Diaz-Balart and Salazar, Foreman said the rightward turn of their Miami-Dade County bases shown in last month’s elections could have influenced their thinking.

“Now that Miami-Dade County went overwhelmingly for Republican candidates in the midterms, they may feel that it’s better to be on the other side of the issue and more in line with their conservative base by voting against the bill.”

Spokespeople for Mast, who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, and Salazar, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


Diaz-Balart said in a statement Monday that he was switching to a “no” vote. Even though the legislation contains exemptions for faith-based nonprofits he said it didn’t do enough to ensure that some people and organizations with religious objections to same-sex marriage wouldn’t be forced to violate their beliefs.

“My record shows that I am a long-standing advocate against discrimination of all types. I, however, cannot support any effort that undermines religious liberties by failing to provide legitimate safeguards for faith-based organizations that object based on their deeply-held religious beliefs,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

Religious leaders and denominations were on both sides of the issue. Roman Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention opposed the legislation. The National Association of Evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supported it.

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“People deserve to be able to marry whomever they wish irrespective of gender or sex. If they chose to commit to one another legally and build their lives together, government should recognize their union,” Frankel said in a statement.

The campaign arm for House Democrats criticized Salazar’s switch.

“Maria Elvira Salazar’s vote change shows Floridians that she is willing to say and do anything to get elected. Salazar’s shameless vote against the Respect for Marriage Act sends a clear message that she doesn’t believe people’s right to marry whomever they love should be protected,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Tommy Garcia said in a statement.


The House vote was almost entirely along party lines with Democrats voting in favor of the legislation and Republicans voting against it. Besides Gimenez, whose district includes Key West, two other Florida “yes” votes came from U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack, R-Gainesville, and Mike Waltz, R-St Augustine Beach. Cammack and Waltz both voted yes in July as well.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, R-Fla., both voted “no” when the Senate considered the legislation in November.

This article will be updated. Please check back for updates.

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @browardpolitics