Are Republican presidential candidates obsessed with marriage?
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s quick response to the federal appellate court ruling on Tuesday that found California’s voter-approved ban on nuptials for gays and lesbians unconstitutional certainly suggests they are.
"This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court," he correctly noted in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. "That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices."
The thrice-married former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sought to position himself as the conservative who can most effectively combat so-called judicial activism on the federal bench. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum threw more red meat to social conservatives when he once again called for the abolishment of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals itself.
"We need to have a Judicial Branch that acts within its Constitutional bounds," he said in response to the Prop 8 decision. "We need to have a president that is willing to stand up to the Judiciary. We need to have a president who will fight to protect marriage once and for all with a federal marriage amendment. I am committed to being that president."
Diatribes against so-called judicial activism on marriage and other contentious issues is certainly one way to pander to skeptical social conservatives. Some candidates have mastered this art far better than others; but R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, correctly called a spade a spade when he criticized Romney over his response to the Prop 8 decision.
"Governor Romney’s comments attacking the court for striking down Proposition 8 reflect an unfortunate kneejerk opposition to expanding liberty and a poorly calculated political effort to appeal to a shrinking base of primary voters opposed to marriage equality," he said.
Only one percent of those who participated in a Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll last February listed stopping marriage for gays and lesbians as a top priority. A new poll released hours after the 9th Circuit issued its Prop 8 decision found that 59 percent of New Hampshire residents oppose a bill that would repeal the state’s marriage equality law that took effect in Jan. 2010. The WMUR/University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll further noted that 37 percent of Republicans oppose the measure.
Strong opposition to marriage for same-sex couples was not a viable campaign strategy for Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The remaining Republican presidential candidates who continue to use the issue to solidify their conservative credentials should take note.