Republican Presidential Candidates Aren't Having a Good Day

Republican Presidential Candidates Aren't Having a Good Day

After the justices issued their decision today bringing marriage equality nationwide, some Republicans pledged to fight if elected president.

"Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people's turn to speak," wrote Rick Santorum on Twitter. Ahead of the ruling, the former senator who won 11 primary states in 2012, had repeatedly pledged to fight any ruling that favored marriage equality. 

"The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage," said Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and former pastor, in a lengthy statement. "I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat."

Santorum and Huckabee have the distinction of being the only GOP candidates so far to sign an anti-marriage pledge created by the Texas pastor who promised to burn himself alive if marriage equality went nationwide. The pledge claims that "no civil institution, including the United States Supreme Court or any court, has authority to redefine marriage." That line of argument sounds to many like old-fashioned "nullification" rhetoric, which was once employed by segregationists who didn't want to share schools with black children. They argued states don't have to listen to federal authority.

Huckabee was asked whether he supports nullification on Meet The Press in January and said "No, I'm advocating adherence to the Constitution." Huckabee continued his confused argument and remained defiant today, calling the decision an "out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was named The Advocate's Phobie of the Year in 2014, has said "mandatory gay marriage" is the "greatest threat we've ever seen." He's led those who this year proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman, and he proposed a law banning any federal court from ruling on marriage until the constitutional amendment could be approved. Getting their amendment would take approval from two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and three-quarters of state legislatures.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is also one who who has backed a constitutional amendment as a "remedy" for the Supreme Court. And he hurriedly signed an executive order in May that creates what activists call a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people. He might be hoping that sets him apart in a crowded GOP field, warning on Friday that the government might soon "force" people to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.

"This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision," he said. "This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty."

Many of the candidates support so-called religious exemptions for individuals and businesses that object to serving same-sex couples. Ben Carson once joked that gay couples might find poison in the wedding cakes they order from antigay bakeries that don't have the option of discriminating.

Carson has said it's an "open question" of whether he would be legally required to follow a Supreme Court ruling if elected president. But he clarified today that he'd follow their lead. "While I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, their ruling is now the law of the land," he said in a statement. "I call on Congress to make sure deeply held religious views are respected and protected.  The government must never force Christians to violate their religious beliefs."

Rick Perry also backs a U.S. constitutional amendment, and though his state's marriage ban today has fallen, he had enlisted his attorney general while governor of Texas to defend it. Today he described himself as "disappointed" that the justices would "legislate from the bench." If elected, he pledged to nominate only "strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.”

But a split in the Republican Party over LGBT rights might be on the way. George Pataki, the former Republican governor of New York, is the only candidate to back same-sex marriage. For his part, Pataki hasn't yet issued a comment today. In the past, he'd called all the talk about social issues such as abortion and gay marriage a "distraction." But the rift will be over whether to focus on overturning the decision or moving on. 

Some of the anti-marriage candidates are trying to strike a conciliatory tone. For a while, all of the candidates were regularly being asked whether they'd personally attend a same-sex wedding if they were invited. A number of them said they would, including Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Bobby Jindal. It became such a touchpoint that Reuters even polled on the question, with 56 percent of Republicans answering that they would go to the big event of a loved one.

Lindsey Graham had co-sponsored a constitutional amendment back in 2008 but more recently has said it's time for his party to move on. Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, Graham told Boston Herald Radio that if the justices rule in favor of marriage equality "It will be time for us to move forward as a society." He reiterated that point today.

"The Supreme Court has ruled that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional, and I will respect the Court's decision," he said in a statement today. "Furthermore, given the quickly changing tide of public opinion on this issue, I do not believe that an attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution could possibly gain the support of three-fourths of the states or a supermajority in the U.S. Congress. Rather than pursing a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail, I am committing myself to ensuring the protection of religious liberties of all Americans."

Carly Fiorina, who also once supported a constitutional amendment, said in May that she would no longer support an amendment to reverse a court decision. "I do not agree that the Court can or should redefine marriage," she said on Friday, adding, "Moving forward, however, all of our effort should be focused on protecting the religious liberties and freedom of conscience for those Americans that profoundly disagree with today's decision." And she hit on religious freedom as well. "We must lead by example, finding a way to respect one another and to celebrate a culture that protects religious freedom while promoting equality under the law."

Jeb Bush has focused his attention on promoting "religious freedom." He suggested the Supreme Court might next rule on whether to force pastors to officiate same-sex weddings — a scenario that's never happened. And he's talked about protecting florists and the like from same-sex weddings.

Bush, who selected a gay man to run his communications team, said Friday that the court should have left the decision to the states, but added, "I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side.  It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”

Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio has tried to sound welcoming of LGBT people while also disapproving. While Rubio has said he'd attend a same-sex wedding, for example, he doesn't support "the choice" of the couple. Meanwhile, he's supported the right of some states to pass marriage equality laws even while masking an extensive antigay record that includes campaigning for a ban in his home state of Florida.

“While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law," Rubio said in a statement. Like Perry, he focused on appointing the next Supreme Court justices. And like many of the other candidates, he reiterated fears about encroachment on religious freedom. But he tried to strike the same more personal tone he's used to soften that message. "Every American has the right to pursue happiness as they see fit," he said. "Not every American has to agree on every issue, but all of us do have to share our country."

A number of Republicans often named as likely candidates still haven't declared, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie. He's known for having vetoed a marriage equality bill in his home state. At the time, he said marriage should instead be put up for majority vote on the ballot. When asked about the ruling this morning, Christie both said that he hadn't read it and that he agreed with Roberts' line of thinking in the dissent.

And then there's Donald Trump, who surprised pundits this year by actually following through with his threat to run. Trump opposes marriage equality, though he's been lobbied by former Apprentice contestant George Takei and talked about it with out journalist Thomas Roberts, who hosted Trump's Miss Unvierse pageant in 2013.  "I think that it's an evolving process, Thomas," Trump said back then in an interview on MSNBC. But so far today Trump has focused his ire on Justice Roberts, who a day earlier had ruled in favor or Obamacare. "Once again the Bush appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has let us down," he wrote on Twitter immediately after the marriage ruling came down, then blamed the man leading in the polls for Roberts being on the court. "Jeb pushed him hard! Remember!"

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