House bills on contraception, same-sex and interracial marriages split Tennessee, Georgia political parties

Staff Photo / U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann speaks with Bradley County law enforcement in 2020 in Cleveland, Tenn.

U.S. House Democrats' bills to enshrine in federal law protections for same-sex and interracial marriages as well as contraception got no traction from Republican representatives from Tennessee and Georgia.

Democrats in both states voted in favor of the measures as they passed last week. The two bills came in response to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion in the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to an abortion that had been established in Roe v. Wade almost 50 years ago.

Thomas went on to question the legal underpinnings of prior high court rulings that legalized the right to obtain contraception, the right to same-sex intimacy and the right to same-sex marriage.

The Democratic-led U.S. Senate is expected to take up the two bills - or try to take up the measures or press similar ones. It's seen as uncertain as to whether they will be able to muster enough Republican support in the 50-50 Senate to overcome an expected GOP filibuster.

The Right to Contraception Act passed on a 228-195 vote with mostly Democratic support. Among its Senate sponsors is Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia.

(READ MORE: Tennessee's near-total ban on abortions will go into effect Aug. 25, state attorney general says)

The second House-passed bill was the Respect for Marriage Act, which would put into federal statute new laws permitting same-sex and interracial marriages. It was approved on a 267-157 vote with 57 Republican members joining Democrats to vote yes - although none from Georgia or Tennessee.

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, was the lone Tennessee Republican not voting against both bills, because he was absent.

"Congressman Burchett was out sick last week and was following doctor's orders not to travel to Washington, so he was unable to vote," spokeswoman Rachel Partlow explained in an email Wednesday.

A week earlier, Burchett voted against a Democratic-backed bill that sought to protect the right to travel across state lines for abortion services.

Area Republican representatives dismissed passage of both bills as election-year posturing aimed at diverting voters' attention.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga anti-abortion advocates celebrate, look toward future after Supreme Court decision)

"While Tennesseans are dealing with soaring inflation, a looming recession, out-of-control energy costs and falling wages, Congress should be singularly focused on improving the economic well-being of the citizens of our state who're being drained of their income and savings - not political messaging bills to distract Americans from the failures of Congressional Democrats' policies," U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Chattanooga Republican, stated in a Tuesday email to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, a Georgia Democrat and one of the lead sponsors of the Right to Contraception Act, touted the bill's passage last week.

"We shouldn't have to defend essential health care from extremists who want to tear it away from millions, but that's the world that Republicans want to build. I'm fighting to make sure they don't succeed," Williams tweeted after the measure passed.

The following day, Williams tweeted: "96% of voters SUPPORT access to contraception. 96% of House Republicans voted AGAINST access to contraception. Make it make sense y'all!"

Williams also called on Senate Democrats to abolish the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to stop debate on a bill.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Northwest Georgia, said in a Facebook post prior to voting against the bills that Republicans should oppose both the Right to Contraception Act as well as the Respect for Marriage Act as a "protest vote."

"I'll be voting no to the fake, lying gay marriage bill because guess what?" Greene said. "No one is taking away gay marriage. There's no reason to have this vote whatsoever. It should be a protest vote for every single Republican.

"And then also," Greene added, "we've got the contraceptive bill. Easy one for me. Vote no."

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Sherwood, was also dismissive of Democrats' passage of the bills.

"These were both Democratic messaging bills and nothing more than political theater in an election year," DesJarlais stated in an email. "The American people want Congress focused on solving our economic crisis, overrun southern border, and national security threats."

On social media last week, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, posted, "I voted today to protect the right to marry regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Republican politicians who voted against this basic human right should never speak the word 'freedom' again. To paraphrase ... until we are all equal, none of us is equal."

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.