In a Republican presidential debate on Thursday that offered plenty of hot rhetoric for TV clips, John Kasich stood out for a conciliatory answer on marriage equality, saying “the court has ruled and I've moved on.”
The Ohio governor was asked to explain his position on whether businesses ought to be able to refuse service to gays and lesbians who want to get married. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said Kasich had been “a little bit less emphatic” on so-called religious liberty. “You've said, same-sex couple approaches a cupcake maker, sell them a cupcake. Can we trust you as much on religious liberty as the rest of these people?”
Even with the unsettled question of who will replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, Kasich didn’t suddenly sound more antigay.
“Religious institutions should be able to practice the religion that they believe in. No question and no doubt about it,” he started. “Now, in regard to same-sex marriage, I don't favor it. I've always favored traditional marriage, but, look, the court has ruled and I've moved on.”
All of the other candidates on stage — Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson — have pledged to overturn marriage equality if elected president. And with that effort going nowhere, religious liberty has become the fresh battle ground for social conservatives — whose votes are coveted in the primary. A “license to discriminate” bill is now being considered by the governor in Georgia, for example, and has already passed in Mississippi.
“Look, where does it end?” asked Kasich rhetorically on refusing service. Here’s his complete answer, according to an annotated transcript by the Washington Post:
“If you're in the business of selling things, if you're not going to sell to somebody you don't agree with, OK, today I'm not going to sell to somebody who's gay, and tomorrow maybe I won't sell to somebody who's divorced.
“I mean, if you're in the business of commerce, conduct commerce. That's my view. And if you don't agree with their lifestyle, say a prayer for them when they leave and hope they change their behavior.
“But when it comes to the religious institutions, they are in inviolate in my mind, and I would fight for those religious institutions. And look, I've appointed over a hundred judges as governor. I even appointed adjudge to the Ohio Supreme Court.
“And you know what they are? They're conservatives. Go check it out. They are conservatives. They don't make the law. They interpret the law. That's all they do. And they stick by the Constitution. So I will do that.
“But let's just not get so narrow here as to gotcha this or that. I think my position is clear.”
This isn't the first time that Kasich, who finished second in New Hampshire but hasn't won a state, has found himself talking up a middle-of-the-road approach to same-sex marriage during a debate. In the first debate on Fox News, Kasich said "of course" he'd love his child if she were gay, and he talked about recently attending a friend's same-sex wedding. On Thursday, he wasn’t the only one asked about same-sex marriage by Hewitt.
For his part, Rubio wondered aloud whether Trump was really committed to picking a conservative replacement on the high court. “I have a doubt about whether Donald Trump, if he becomes president, will replace Justice Scalia with someone just like Justice Scalia,” he said. In response, Trump reiterated that “I have great respect for Justice Scalia. I thought he was terrific.”
Carson also chimed in on Scalia, calling him “a tremendous wit and intellect.” The brain surgeon said when picking a replacement, “The fruit salad of their life is what I will look at.”
Carson also outlined a thorough opposition to same-sex marriage, saying the Constitution “gives people who believe in same-sex marriage the same rights as everybody else. But what we have to remember is even though everybody has the same rights, nobody get extra rights. So nobody gets to redefine things for everybody else and then have them have to conform to it. That's unfair.”
He said it’s the job of Congress to overrule the Supreme Court. “That's why we have divided government,” he said. “And we're going to have to encourage them to act in an appropriate way, or we will lose our religious freedom.”
Watch Kasich’s answer below: