Opinion: After abortion defeat, Democrats in Congress try to play offense

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia was among Democrats who pressed for a U.S. House vote that would put Republicans on the record on a measure to provide legal protection to same-sex and interracial marriages. “It’s time to enshrine marriage equality into federal law,” Johnson said  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia was among Democrats who pressed for a U.S. House vote that would put Republicans on the record on a measure to provide legal protection to same-sex and interracial marriages. “It’s time to enshrine marriage equality into federal law,” Johnson said (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

For years, Democrats have been routinely put on the defensive by Republicans over hot-button social issues commonly referred to by the phrase “God, gays and guns.”

But in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, Democrats on Capitol Hill have tried to flip that familiar script — and instead be the more aggressive party.

Amid worries that a conservative Supreme Court might overturn other landmark rulings on issues such as same-sex marriage and contraception — something specifically raised by Justice Clarence Thomas — House Democrats decided to force votes on those matters and put GOP lawmakers on the record.

In a bipartisan vote, 47 U.S. House Republicans joined with all Democrats to back a bill offering legal protection to same-sex and interracial marriages, as it passed on a 267-157 vote.

“It’s time to enshrine marriage equality into federal law,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia.

“Love is love,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee.

Every Georgia Republican voted against the bill — not interested in federal recognition for same-sex marriage.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, denounced the plan as yet another effort by Democrats “to impose their leftist agenda on the entire country.”

But while no one from Georgia broke ranks, Democrats caused a significant rift inside the GOP, as Republicans from 21 states voted for the marriage measure.

This bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.

On the House floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted the chief sponsor of that bill back then — then-U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia — was married three times.

“We don’t know which marriage he was defending,” Pelosi cracked.

1996 was a different time politically for Democrats, as President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law amid concerns that Democrats would be hurt that campaign year, already buffeted by controversy over efforts to allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Obviously, just because Democrats are trying to play offense in 2022 doesn’t mean they will succeed in passing any bills on marriage, abortion or contraception.

But they do force Republicans to confront issues that play differently in the suburbs where the GOP has struggled with women voters in recent elections.

Next week, House Democrats may try to force a vote on an assault weapons ban — a bill that certainly would face a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

But Democrats have clearly decided they need to shake up a 2022 midterm election campaign for Congress that right now favors Republicans.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com.