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Hillary Clinton's Marriage Position Could Be Used as Shield for Republicans

Hillary Clinton's Marriage Position Could Be Used as Shield for Republicans


When Hillary Clinton says that marriage decisions should be 'left to the states,' she's aligning herself with antigay Republicans.

The way the Log Cabin Republicans see it, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush aren't all that different.

Both are presumed leading contenders for their respective parties' 2016 presidential nominations, and both have said states should get to decide whether same-sex couples wed.

"It's disappointing to see that Jeb Bush has the same opinion of marriage equality as the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton," said Log Cabin's Gregory T. Angelo in a statement. "As it stands, Jeb tacks the same line as Hillary: that marriage is something that should be left to the states."

Really, it's only just barely the same line. After all, Clinton supports marriage equality and Bush doesn't, plus those lines diverge all the more sharply when it comes to other LGBT issues. But Log Cabin would have you believe they are similar enough that Clinton should expect to have her view touted by any GOP presidential contender who wants to look moderate.

Indeed, before Barack Obama "evolved" in his own views on marriage equality in 2012, New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie (another candidate thought to be eyeing a 2016 bid) told reporters his "feet are firmly planted right next to President Obama" on the issue, according to the Washington Post. Just months later, Christie went on to veto a bill that would have brought same-sex marriage to New Jersey in 2012, though he ultimately dropped his efforts to appeal a pro-equality court decision, bringing marriage equality to the Garden State in 2013.

Now the new moderate getting headlines is Bush, so of course he was asked about marriage equality coming this week to the state where he previously served two terms as governor. "It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision," he said. "The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it's been overturned by the courts, I guess."

Bush later clarified that "regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law," going on to say that he hopes "we can 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."

For her part, Clinton has expressed similar sentiments, telling NPR's Terry Gross last year that "for me, marriage has always been a matter left to the states" and "I fully endorse the efforts by activists to work state by state."

It's grand of Clinton to endorse the efforts of activists, though her framing might not describe exactly what they have in mind. When it comes to outreach and education, a state-by-state approach such as that pioneered by Freedom to Marry has been highly successful at winning over voters. But, when answering questions about the legal protections guaranteed by the U.S Constitution, the Supreme Court is always an appropriate venue for a decision.

And if you want to get technical about it, the courts didn't invalidate Florida's marriage ban -- the U.S. Constitution did. As more than 55 state and federal courts have determined, any state (Florida included) that seeks to ban marriage for gay and lesbian couples is consequently seeking an exemption from the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of that founding document.

Any degreee of similarity that Republicans may claim starts truly unraveling when comparing themselves against Clinton on other LGBT issues. Bush opposed hate-crimes law covering gays and lesbians, and he claimed that LGBT people have fabricated their oppression. He opposed equal adoption rights for gay and lesbian parents, and supported a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Clinton, on the other hand, endorsed marriage equality in 2013. She supported the repeal of the military's ban on out LGB soldiers known as the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. And under her leadership, the State Department brought new focus to LGBT issues around the globe.

The Log Cabin Republicans opted to focus on the few similarities between Clinton and Bush rather than their differences. And while it's unlikely that many of the other potential candidates would want cover for their antigay views, the leave-it-to-the-states argument is pretty common.

When an Arkansas judge overturned that state's marriage ban, former governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee called for his impeachment. "If the people wish to allow same-sex marriage, they can put that matter on the ballot and vote for it," Huckabee said. Similarly, vehemently antigay Rick Santorum argued that states can do "what they want to do" when it comes to marriage equality.

And "the states have the right to pass the laws they want to," said Michele Bachmann in 2011. One year later, legislators in her own state of Minnesota passed a marriage equality law, and Bachmann suddenly had less to say on the subject.

If Clinton continues to maintain that equal access to marriage is a matter for states, Republicans may continue to point out their alignment with her on that issue. But November of 2016 is still a long way off, with plenty of time left to evolve.

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Matt Baume