GOP Presidential Hopeful: ’I Believe in Civil Unions’
Former Governor of Utah and Ambassador Jon Huntsman reaffirmed his belief on a recent CNN appearance that same-sex couples should be granted a level of legal recognition.
"I believe in civil unions," Huntsman told CNN host Piers Morgan on the Aug. 22 edition of Piers Morgan Tonight. "I think we can do a better job in this country as it relates to equality and basic reciprocal beneficiary rights."
Currently, marriage equality is legal in six states. Voters in two other states, California and Maine, rescinded marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage played a key role in organizing and financing both ballot initiatives.
NOM is also an opponent of civil unions, which is currently available to same-sex couples in five states.
Anti-gay critics claim that civil unions are a precursor to state-level marriage equality, and point to Vermont, the first state to offer civil unions, and New Hampshire. In both states, marriage equality followed.
Skeptics in the GLBT community view civil unions as a "separate and unequal" status that fails to carry either the legal weight or the social significance of marriage. Neither side was pleased when Rhode Island lawmakers passed a civil unions bill earlier this year as a compromise measure after refusing to press for marriage equality, fearing that the needed votes would not be available for such a measure.
But civil unions can also be a balm in battleground states. In Hawaii, where a court decision sparked a wave of anti-gay amendments to state constitutions to preemptively prevent gay and lesbian families from gaining marriage rights, a newly enacted civil unions law provides a measure of protection, and solace, to same-sex couples who would otherwise be left in the cold after having lost a skirmish in the culture wars.
President Obama has repeatedly said that he favors civil unions for America’s gay and lesbian families, though he thinks marriage should be reserved as a special right to be enjoyed solely by heterosexual couples. However, the president has also said that his thinking on the issue is still "evolving," an assertion that some see as a prelude to Obama announcing his support for full marriage equality in time for the 2012 election cycle.
Huntsman, a Republican, served the Obama administration as Ambassador to China. In order to serve in that capacity, Huntsman stepped down as governor of Utah.
In his comments to Morgan, Huntsman essentially echoed the comments that Obama had made as a candidate in 2008.
"I’m in favor of traditional marriage; I don’t think you can redefine that without getting into trouble," Huntsman told Morgan. "But I think along with that we can have civil unions.
"I think this country has arrived at a point in time where we can show a little more equality and respect," Huntsman added. "Leave it to the states; I think it’s a state issue that ought to be driven by discussion in various states, and you’ve got the Defense of Marriage Act that basically is a safeguard that allows that to happen."
Most of the other hopefuls in the crowded Republican field have expressed support for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would deny marriage equality to same-sex families, including Huntsman’s fellow Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney. (Michele Bachmann, rather confusingly, said that she considers marriage to be a state’s rights issue, but then also said she would support an amendment -- which, were it to be ratified, would take the issue away from states that disagree with writing discrimination into America’s bedrock law.)
A June 22 New Yorker blog by Ryan Lizza suggested that Huntsman might do better than more extreme ideologues seeking the nomination, in part because those same ideologues could end up marginalizing the Iowa caucuses.
But longtime New Yorker contributor Hendrik Hertzberg blogged on Aug. 20 that Huntsman is not a likely candidate for the GOP in 2012.
"Huntsman’s strategy, as has seemed obvious from the start, is this: Huntsman for President -- in 2016," Hertzberg wrote. "As he surely understands, 2012 is not his year. There’s no way that Barack Obama’s Ambassador to China is going to win over the Tea-maddened Republican Party of the Palin-Bachmann era. Nor are the twitching remnants of the old Dole/McCain G.O.P. likely to ditch the quasi-moderate Mormon ex-governor who is first in line [Mitt Romney] in favor of the quasi-moderate Mormon ex-governor who’s trying to jump the queue."
Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor seemed to agree in general terms with this assessment, writing in an Aug. 22 article that Huntsman’s carefully modulated stance as a moderate was unlikely to result in the GOP nomination when "the modus operandi of the primary season -- make yourself appear as staunchly conservative as possible to appeal to the base and win the nomination, only to have to morph into a center-right candidate come next year -- ...increasingly look[s] like the only way to win."
In addition to endorsing civil unions, Huntsman has also said that he believes in both global warming and evolution. By contrast, other Republicans on the campaign trail have denied global warming and spoken about intelligent design.
The current frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, are seen as vulnerable to Texas Governor and high profile evangelist Christian Rick Perry, who has also said that the issue of marriage should be left to the states, but who has subsequently modified his message to say that there should be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to curtail the rights of gay and lesbian families.