A GOP congresswoman made a tearful plea this week to fellow House members to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act, which offers federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, and a response from a member of her own family has now gone viral. On Thursday, Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri took to the House floor to beg other lawmakers to vote "no" on the bill, and she became quite emotional while doing so, NBC News reports. "I'll tell you my priority: Protect religious liberty, protect people of faith, and protect Americans who believe in the true meaning of marriage," Hartzler said at the podium, breaking down as she spoke about how the views of people of faith were being "silenced." "I hope and pray that my colleagues will find the courage to join me in opposing this misguided and this dangerous bill."
Clips of Hartzler's speech went viral, and among those who saw it was her own nephew, 24-year-old Andrew Hartzler of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a gay man who advocates for the LGBTQ community. "My initial thought when I saw it was, 'Oh my, is she crying because she now knows that I'm gay?'" Andrew tells People (he tells NBC he came out to his aunt earlier this year). Before he knew it, he was firing up his TikTok account and posting his own video in response to his aunt's words. "Today, a United States congresswoman, my Aunt Vicky, started crying, because gay people like me can get married," 24-year-old Andrew said in the clip he posted Thursday, which has since gone viral itself, racking up more than 870,000 views as of Saturday morning. "So despite coming out to my aunt this past February, I guess she's still just as much of a homophobe."
Andrew pushed back at his aunt's claims that religious people and institutions were being silenced, telling her, "It's more like you want the power to force your religious beliefs onto everyone else, and because you don't have that power, you feel like you're being silenced." Andrew tells NBC he grew up down the street from his aunt in Missouri and has fond memories of spending time with her as a kid, but that after he came out to her, she rebuffed him. He says they haven't spoken since, though she did invite him to Thanksgiving dinner (he didn't go). "Gay marriage is no reason to cry," he tells MSNBC. Despite Vicky Hartzler's appeal, the House ended up passing the Respect for Marriage Act by a vote of 258-169. The Senate already gave the green light to it last month, in a 61-36 vote, so the bill is now on its way to President Biden's desk for his signature. (Read more LGBTQ stories.)