It doesn’t look like same-sex marriage will be much of an issue in 2016, based on what the presidential candidates are being asked—and how they’re answering.
The latest round of questions amounts to nibbling at the edges of the debate that was once so divisive in American politics, given that George W. Bush campaigned in 2004 for a constitutional amendment to ban such marriages.
There’s been a lot of chatter in this campaign about “gotcha” questions, with Republicans complaining that liberal media types are trying to trip them up with prosecutorial or irrelevant questions.
But it turns out that interviewers of all ideological stripes can employ such techniques, which are designed to elicit something resembling news. Besides, shouldn’t presidential contenders be able to handle all kinds of questions, gotcha or otherwise?
Conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt has been hosting a series of Republican candidates. Had he merely asked them for their position on marriage, all would have dutifully explained that they believe it should be between a man and a woman, and moved on. That is the official GOP position, and yet it’s becoming clear that most Republicans aren’t going out of their way to emphasize the issue.
So Hewitt asked: Would you attend a same-sex wedding?
Ted Cruz deflected the question. “I haven’t faced that circumstance,” he said. “I have not had a loved one have a gay wedding.”
Rick Santorum, whose base is on the evangelical right, was unequivocal. “That would be something that would be a violation of my faith,” he said.
Marco Rubio had gotten the same question from Fusion host Jorge Ramos, and he sent a signal of tolerance: “If there’s somebody that I love that’s in my life, I don’t necessarily have to agree with their decisions or the decisions they’ve made to continue to love them and participate in important events,” Rubio said.
The question soon went viral. A reporter asked Scott Walker about it in New Hampshire, and he said that “for someone I love”—a cousin of his wife’s—he had attended a reception. And potential candidate John Kasich told a CNN reporter that after talking it over with his wife, he had just told a gay friend that he’d be at the man’s wedding.
These queries moved the debate from the abstract to the personal, and also reflected the recent uproar in Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence signed a religious freedom law that would have made it easier for bakers or florists to refuse to provide services at a same-sex wedding. Pence, of course, backed off and signed a revised law that contained a gay rights clause.
It’s important for the media to remember that a significant chunk of the country still supports traditional marriage only, and that is not a bigoted position; indeed, it was Barack Obama’s position until 2012. Hillary Clinton, whose husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act, has just “evolved” into saying that same-sex marriage should be a national right, not just left up to the states.
With 37 states having adopted same-sex marriage, and a major Supreme Court decision looming, it’s clear that both the legal and political momentum are moving in that direction. Republicans are trying to stand their ground without alienating voters, especially younger voters, who see past barriers as legal discrimination.
Bush’s brother Jeb, who a decade ago argued that “sodomy” should not be “elevated to the same status as race and religion,” now says that despite his personal opposition, people should accept the court rulings and “show respect” for gays in long-term relationships.
It’s striking, especially in light of George Bush’s 2004 position, that some GOP candidates are accusing the press of using marriage as a divisive issue.
Cruz said the media try “to twist the question of marriage” into “a battle of emotions and personalities,” suggesting that “any conservative must hate people who are gay.” There is intolerance within the media, sure, but that’s quite an overstatement.
Yet here is Hugh Hewitt, a stalwart Mitt Romney supporter in 2012, seeing fit to ask the candidates whether they would attend a gay wedding. No one can blame that on left-wing fanatics.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.