The current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich, today unloaded a detailed explanation of why he believes same-sex marriage is eroding American families and why "don't ask, don't tell" would be his policy as president, and he even floated a theory that U.S. military commanders are lying about whether they support its repeal. On top of all that, Gingrich says people choose to be gay, like priests choose to be celibate.
In an interview today with The Des Moines Register that was broadcast on C-SPAN, the former speaker of the House went so far as to praise Rick Santorum, a fellow candidate who has stuck to an antigay, supposedly pro-family theme more closely than any other in the race. Despite the appeal to Iowa's socially conservative Republican caucus voters, Santorum is still mired in single digits in polls.
A poll of likely Republican primary voters conducted this week by Public Policy Polling found Gingrich in first place with 22%, followed by Ron Paul at 21%, Mitt Romney at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, and the rest in single digits.
As part of his appeal to social conservatives, Gingrich also announced this week that he agreed to antigay pledges from the Iowa Family Leader and the National Organization for Marriage, which both commit him to a backing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In the NOM pledge, Gingrich also promises to use his power as president to investigate those who support marriage equality for alleged harassment of groups like NOM.
Read a transcript of the LGBT-focused portion of the interview with Gingrich below, via a video posted by ThinkProgress and viewable at the bottom of this story.
First Interviewer: With your view of history do you see comparisons between the civil rights era and the push these days for gay rights? There were lots of people in the South in the '60s who would have never had consented to blacks and whites marrying, and that's become the law of the land. There are lots of gay folks who see themselves in the same predicament. Talk about that.
Newt Gingrich: I think there is an enormous difference between an inescapable fact of race — and you have to decide whether or not you are in fact going to tolerate discrimination based on race — and a question about culture, a question about what are your values. I think marriage is between a man and a woman. That's a value proposition.
I think it is very important for society to try and emphasize that relationship. I think people growing up in a structure in which children have parents that they look up to and parents that they relate to is a very important thing.
I think there is a big difference between saying that you are going to have an acceptance of people's lifestyle and saying you now are going to normalize that as the standard for the whole country. The fact is I am a traditional classic conservative. And I am defending a value system which has a several-thousand-year history behind it, which is pretty clear. And I think that almost nobody who studies that value system has any doubts about that clarity.
Second Interviewer: A lot of people from the South in the '50s and '60s would have said mixed-race marriage was a cultural thing that they couldn't accept at the time.
Look, you can always make parallels if you want to. I don't accept that parallel. I think that it is fairly ludicrous. Nobody is suggesting that we have legal segregation of gays, nobody is suggesting they not be allowed to use the bathroom, they not be allowed to drink at the water fountain. I mean, segregation was a horrible thing. And I grew up, I was born in Pennsylvania, I grew up in an integrated U.S. Army. I arrived at Fort Benning when I was a junior in high school. Segregation was still legal, it was a totally different thing. And I think that it is frankly offensive to have this whole effort to draw the contrast and to say that if you feel strongly about marriage being between a man and a woman, gee, is that parallel to being a racist? The answer is no. I am defending a 3,000-year tradition. It's very deep in our culture for very profound reasons.
Third Interviewer: But marriage is about to be a minority status in this country, marriage between a man and a woman.
And that's a problem.
Third Interviewer: Is there something as president you would see that you could do to turn that tide if that's what your value is?
I think part of it is to shift the benefit patterns economically so there is a greater benefit to being married. Look at the impact. You go back and look at [then–Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick] Moynihan's original warnings on this topic 40 years ago. And by every criteria, the breakdown of the family has gotten worse, the number of children who are growing up rootless and without any kind of adult supervision has gotten worse. And yet Moynihan was roundly attacked for having said things that are now patently true, very clearly obvious. I think [Rick] Santorum is actually on to something important, that finding a way to create a positive environment to maximize the desirability of marriage being the central building block and family being the central building block of society is a very important step we ought to take.
First Interviewer: So apart from marriage you say you support equal treatment of gay americans?
I'm against discrimination against people based on their private behavior.
First Interviewer: So what is your position on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy?
That would be my policy — don't ask, don't tell.
First Interviewer: So in the military, you would have separate standards?
I don't think in the military, that you particularly want sexual behavior to be an overt issue.
First Interviewer: So you would not have wanted that repealed?
I would not have wanted it repealed.
First Interviewer: Would you try and reinstate it?
I would sign a reinstatement.
First Interviewer: Would you actively work to get it reinstated?
Well, I would encourage the Congress to pass reinstatement, and I suspect the next Congress will pass reinstatement.
And by the way, when the president moved in the opposite direction, the two major ground combat forces — the Army and the Marine Corps — were both deeply opposed.
First Interviewer: They aren't now, though.
They aren't now because they respond to the commander in chief.
First Interviewer: They aren't telling the truth, they aren't telling their true feelings?
I think fairly often when you are in the chain of command, there is a way to ask the question just right. But the truth is I think it would be a career-ending conversation.
Fourth Interviewer: Mr. Speaker, you mentioned race earlier being inescapable. Do you believe that people choose to be gay?
I believe it’s a combination of genetics and environment. I think that both are involved. I think people have many ranges of choices. Part of the question is, do you want a society which has a bias in one direction or another?
Fourth Interviewer: So people then can choose one way or another?
I think people have a significant range of choice within a genetic pattern. I don’t believe in genetic determinism and I don’t think there is any great evidence of genetic determinism. There are propensities. Are you more likely to do this or more likely to do that? But that doesn’t mean it’s definitional.
Fourth Interviewer: So a person can then choose to be straight?
Look, people choose to be celibate, people choose many things in life. You know, there is a bias in favor of noncelibacy. It’s part of how the species re-creates. And yet there is a substantial amount of people who choose celibacy as a religious vocation or for other reasons.
Fourth Interviewer: So gay people should choose celibacy?
I didn't say that. I said people have many choices within genetic patterns. It is not a predetermined either-or.