The Man Behind the Myth

Now a serious Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee has had shifting stances that seem more calculated than compassionate.

BY Bernice Yeung

December 14 2007 1:00 AM ET

ON GAY MARRIAGE

In both policy
and rhetoric Huckabee has been entirely consistent on
same-sex marriage: He is adamantly opposed to it. In 1997,
during his first legislative session as governor,
Huckabee signed one of the nation's first
“defense of marriage acts,” which banned
same-sex marriage in Arkansas. He later endorsed and
helped campaign for a state constitutional amendment
to the same effect, which Arkansas voters passed in
2004.

At the Values
Voters Presidential Debate in September, Huckabee
reiterated that he believed that “marriage is a
relationship between one man, one woman, for life....
I would support strongly, and lead -- not just support
but lead an effort to have a constitutional amendment to
affirm marriage as one man, one woman, for life,” he
said.

Just this month
he used more colorful language with TheBoston Globe when he said that "unless Moses
comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain to
tell us something different, we need to keep that
understanding of marriage.”

And as the
governor of Arkansas in 2004, when advocating for the state
constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, he
told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the bill
“isn't a ban on 'gay marriage' since for those
of us who believe in the biblical and historical
definition, there's no such thing as 'gay
marriage.’”

Analysis:
Political observers like Hendrix College’s Barth say
that although Huckabee supported the marriage ban, he
was not at the forefront of the movement, as he claims
to have been. “He now really does tout the fact
that he was leading the charge for a marriage amendment for
Arkansas, but that’s just not accurate." Barth says.
“The record indicates he supported it, but he
was not leading the charge. Those who were leading the
charge were those who were actually saying that Huckabee
was not conservative enough; it was a moment of interparty
politics.”

ON CIVIL UNIONS

Huckabee has
flip-flopped when it comes to civil unions. He recently told TheBoston Globe that he opposes them. "When you
create a validity and actually put a sort of government
approval on the behavior, I think that is a different set of
rules than, say, a person makes a lifestyle decision,
and that's choice,” Huckabee said. “I
understand if there is a same-sex couple, and again I don't
personally support that, but that's their business. The
power of attorney would give them a chance to visit
one another at a hospital, transfer assets. There a
lot of things that could be handled that don't require a
civil union."

But in August
2006 he told the Concord Monitor, a New
Hampshire newspaper, that as a “paradoxical
conservative,” he is against same-sex marriage
("That's not a marriage,"), although he supported
civil unions. New Hampshire has a more progressive
electorate than Iowa, not to mention highly sought-after
independents who can vote in either the Republican or
Democratic primary.

Analysis: Barth
says Huckabee’s shift likely has to do with political
strategy. “I remember when he said it in 2006, and it
struck me as a little surprising. My only guess is
that it was at a time where his campaign was trying to
figure out who was going to appeal to, whether he was
going to be a Christian right candidate or a compassionate
conservative candidate.

“He’s moved to the right decidedly with the
issues he’s emphasized,” Barth adds.

“When he
left the governorship, he was clearly in the moderate camp
among Arkansas Republicans. He’s shifted to the
right since he announced he’s running for
president. If anything, his trajectory has moved from the
right to a moderate position when he was governor, and now
he’s back to where he was in the early
‘90s.”

GAY ADOPTION

As governor,
Huckabee supported a state ban on gay couples becoming
foster parents. It is one of only three states with a
law of this kind still on the books.

When the American
Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in 2006, the
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that
Huckabee questioned the intentions of the gay couple serving
as plaintiffs in the case. "Was the purpose for their
filing suit because they felt very, very compelled to
become foster parents or because the ACLU used them as
the vehicle to make a political point in the court?"
Huckabee asked.

Earlier this
year, when NBC’s Tim Russert asked Huckabee to be
more explicit about whether gay couples should be able
to adopt children, Huckabee expertly dodged the
question: “That's a question that, that I
think, again, goes back to the heart of what's best for the
child. Unfortunately, so much of this argument has
been framed about what, what the same-sex couple
wants. But the real question needs to be
child-focused, not couple-focused. And, Tim, that's true for
whether the couple is same-sex or whether they're
heterosexual. In our state, as in most, the criteria
for adoption is always what's in the best interest of
the child. That ought to be what's front and center.”

Analysis:
Brantley says Huckabee is skilled at sugarcoating his
antigay comments. “He knows how to say
extremely offensive things without seeming offensive,
which is his greatest characteristic. But to think that
he’s anything but a cookie-cutter religious
right-winger is a terrible mistake. He’s
running on the vote from people who abhor gay people, but
he formulates things so it doesn’t sound as mean as
the other candidates.”

Adds Barth:
“He’s trying to stake out a position that is
clear in its conservativeness without being
hard-edged.”

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