Where Do the Presidential Wannabes Stand on Gay Marriage?

Senator Ted Cruz, a U.S. Republican presidential candidate, speaks on April 25 at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's forum in Waukee. Jim Young/Reuters

The national debate over same-sex marriage has landed back in the Supreme Court, but few major presidential candidates routinely put the issue on the front burner.

Among more than a dozen possible Republican hopefuls, only three spoke out forcefully in recent days on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

The three—Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas—appeared determined to underline their defense of traditional marriage.

"We are seeing businesses shut down and individuals threatened with costly lawsuits simply because they do not agree with same-sex marriage," Cruz said Tuesday in a statement released hours after the Supreme Court heard the marriage cases. "There was a time when the defense of religious liberty was an issue of bipartisan agreement. Yet now the progressive left is seeking to force their view of marriage upon all Americans, regardless of their religious convictions."

Cruz filed a constitutional amendment on April 23 that he said would guarantee Americans' right to define marriage as a man-woman union and restrain judges from requiring that "marriage or its benefits" be extended to other types of unions.

"The people should decide the issue of marriage, not the courts," Cruz wrote in a statement. He added:

The union of a man and a woman has been the building block of society since the dawn of history, and the people in numerous states have repeatedly affirmed that truth in their laws. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits that. … And yet that is precisely what has happened. Judges have taken an unprecedented activist role to strike down state marriage laws.

In a widely noted op-ed published April 23 by The New York Times, Jindal said he would stand up to LGBT activists and corporate leaders who "bully" those with religious convictions about what marriage is.

The Louisiana governor, pointing to similar efforts in Arkansas and Indiana, wrote:

Our country was founded on the principle of religious liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn't an individual or business have the right to cite, in a court proceeding, religious liberty as a reason for not participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony that violates a sincerely held religious belief?

Jindal's commentary appeared as he anticipated growing corporate calls, "under pressure from radical liberals," for him to oppose a Louisiana bill that would prohibit the state from taking "adverse action" against an individual, business or nonprofit over religious views of marriage as between a man and a woman.

After a wave of court rulings and a shift in public attitude that seemed improbable during the 2012 presidential campaign, 37 states now allow gay and lesbian couples to marry—including the early primary states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Courts instituted same-sex marriage in 26 of those states.

Huckabee, considering a second bid for the White House, has taken to saying the Obama administration is intent on "criminalizing Christianity" because of faith-based opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

When asked, other GOP presidential hopefuls readily state their personal belief that marriage means one man and one woman, as well as their opposition to federal judges redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships. However, they aren't inclined to dwell on the issue.

Recently, this group appears to include Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

In an email late last week to 24 declared and potential candidates for president from both parties, The Daily Signal asked each of them to state their position on two of the major questions being argued Tuesday before the Supreme Court: Does the Constitution require all states to redefine marriage to include man-man and woman-woman unions? And does one state have to recognize a same-sex marriage conducted in another state?

Only three candidates provided answers—Bush, Perry and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Of them, only Carson directly answered The Daily Signal's questions.

Saying the Constitution does not require all states to allow same-sex marriage, Carson replied:

Like many Americans from diverse religious backgrounds, my faith confirms for me that by definition marriage cannot include same-sex relationships. The people of various states have always defined and treated marriage as a creation of the will of the people of that state. There has been no reason to suggest it should be treated otherwise now.

The public pronouncements from Cruz, Huckabee and Jindal occurred in the days leading up to a gathering Saturday of some 1,000 evangelical voters in Waukee, Iowa, for a Faith and Freedom Coalition event featuring speeches from the three men and seven other aspirants.

"I'm not backing off because what I'm saying is true," Huckabee told attendees. "We're criminalizing Christianity in this country by telling people who hold to an orthodox worldview of biblical marriage that if you still believe that...you will be guilty of discrimination, which could result in some kind of civil or criminal action against you."

Santorum, having incurred the ire of gay rights activists for vocal opposition to same-sex marriage that in 2008 helped him win the first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential caucuses, instead focused his remarks on building the middle class.

On the Democratic side, party favorite Hillary Clinton has worked to demonstrate her recent change of heart in favor of same-sex marriage. The video with which she launched her campaign on April 12 features two men talking about their pending wedding.

During her 2008 race for president, Clinton opposed same-sex marriage, as did her rival for the nomination, Barack Obama. Like the president, she "evolved" on the issue, but unlike him did not come out in support of gay marriage until after the 2012 election.

Clinton faces a potential challenge for the Democratic nomination from Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist from Vermont who has been a strong supporter of marriage equality, the preferred term of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other advocates. HRC gives Sanders its highest rating.

Also pondering their own Democratic runs are Vice President Joe Biden, who declared his support for gay marriage in 2012 before Obama did, and former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, who opposed it while in office but has called the nation's "evolution"—and his—"a good thing."

Another Democrat who may challenge Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, led the successful drive for redefining marriage in his state and has said it's a human rights issue.

Clinton, Cruz, Paul and Rubio so far are the only announced candidates in the 2016 race for the White House. Huckabee has said he will make an announcement May 5.

Carson, expected to declare his candidacy May 4, also said that no state should be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage allowed in another state.

On the question of whether Americans of faith may decline to provide some commonly available services for a purpose such as a same-sex wedding that violates that faith, Carson said:

America was founded on the principle that people should be able to freely express their faith. They should not be drummed out of the marketplace because of their beliefs. We endanger religious liberties when people of religious convictions are penalized for adhering to their deeply held beliefs.... We need to leave room for people of religious faith and religious conviction to be true to their conscience.

An aide to Perry replied to The Daily Signal that the former Texas governor "has long supported traditional marriage, but believes this issue should be left to the states to decide."

Over the past 20 years, Bush moved from opposition to same-sex marriage to calling for respect for the rule of law, as courts in Florida and elsewhere changed the meaning of marriage.

A spokeswoman responded to The Daily Signal's questions by first citing Bush's statement in January, when a Florida judge legalized same-sex marriage:

We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. I hope that we can also show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue—including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.

Last month, she noted, Bush told a California audience that "in a big, diverse country like America we need to have space for people to act on their conscience."

Although "religious freedom is a core value of our country," Bush added, "we shouldn't discriminate based on sexual orientation." After calling for both sides to "forge a consensus," the former Florida governor concluded: "I do fear that certain freedoms that historically have been part of our DNA as a country now are being challenged and I don't think it's appropriate."

Of the rest of the unannounced Republican field, two potential candidates—former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former New York Governor George Pataki—have said they support same-sex marriage, although Pataki argues it is a state issue.

To some, other likely candidates such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former business executive Carly Fiorina are harder to read.

Fiorina, set to announce May 4, has said she voted when she was a California resident for Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment intended to preserve marriage as a man-woman union.

More recently, Fiorina declared that Americans are having "an important conversation" about gay marriage. "I think that the worst thing the Supreme Court can do right now is shortcut this conversation," she told the Christian Post.

HRC, which calls itself the largest champion of equal rights for LGBT Americans, examined the public record of seven of the leading Republican presidential candidates on related issues—Bush, Christie, Cruz, Huckabee, Paul, Rubio and Walker.

The organization concluded that all are opposed to what it calls marriage equality. In its separate evaluation of members of Congress, HRC also gives a negative rating to an eighth White House hopeful, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina.

The HRC website suggests the group will expand the analysis to include Democratic candidates and, as necessary, other GOP hopefuls.

"In this whole debate about the definition of marriage, I remind everyone that marriage is an institution that existed before even government itself," Rubio said during the evangelical event held at Point of Grace Church outside Des Moines. "That the institution of marriage as one man, one woman existed before our laws existed."

In an interview with Daily Signal contributing reporter David Brody, Rubio addressed what the Constitution requires:

There is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage. There isn't such a right. You have to have a ridiculous reading of the U.S. Constitution to reach the conclusion that people have a right to marry someone of the same sex. … Can a state decide to change their laws? Yes, but only through the political process.

The audience gave Jindal two standing ovations for marriage-related remarks that echoed his New York Times piece, as well as a favorite line on religious freedom.

"Corporate America is not going to bully the governor of Louisiana," the governor said. "Here's my message to Hollywood: The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America."

During his speech, Cruz depicted same-sex marriage as a nationwide goal for some Democrats.

"Today's modern Democratic Party has become so radicalized in their devotion to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states that there is no longer any room for religious liberty," the Texas Republican said.

The government won't stop at demanding that Americans accept a new definition of marriage, Huckabee warned the gathering:

If the government restricts something you can believe, then it can already restrict everything you do.… [S]omehow, it's you, the believer, that's supposed to yield your freedom rather than the government step back and recognize you are guaranteed under the Constitution the freedom to believe.

Walker, who has indicated he may declare his candidacy within two months, recalled that the Supreme Court declined to review a court decision that Wisconsin must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The governor told the crowd:

I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. I still hold out hope that the Supreme Court will rule, as has been the tradition in the past, that the states are the places that get to define what marriage is. If for some reason they don't…I believe it's reasonable for the people of America to consider a constitutional amendment that would affirm the ability of states to do just that.

Bolton, Bush, Carson, Christie, Graham and Pataki did not attend the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event. (See the others' speeches here, from C-SPAN).

Ken McIntyre is chief White House correspondent at The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation's Marilyn and Fred Guardabassi fellow in media and public policy studies. This article first appeared on The Daily Signal.

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