When we talk about 2016 presidential candidates, their stance on a variety of issues becomes key for many voters. For many, immigration and economic strategy are the most focused on considerations. But for others, social issues come into play very strongly, in particular issues of equality, whether it be racial tensions in America over distrust of those in power and in law enforcement or rights-related concerns for the LGBT community.
The latter is of particular concern when it comes to the Republican party. While the GOP has begun to shift opinion on LGBT issues and concerns, as have most Americans over the last decade or two — including Democrats — the rate and uniformity of this shift has been slower and less comprehensive for the right than it has been for the left. Still, it’s important to qualify that many Democrats also have changed with the times from a previously negative, or at least non-committal stance on same-sex marriage and issues of sexuality and gender.
This includes Hillary Clinton, currently the most popular potential contender for 2016 on the left and one whose LGBT support we’ll consider on a timeline. Still, Republicans have a generally more difficult and vocal history with the community and these issues, to the point where a younger generation of the GOP recognizes it may drive away constituents and potential voters in a close election and are working to remedy that. As a result, we’ll start with one of the top candidates on the right. Many right leaning politicians remain conservative on the issue of same-sex marriage, arguing in favor of states rights rather than addressing it as a social right or wrong as was done in the past. Let’s take a look at where candidates from both sides stand on same-sex marriage and how their statements have changed over time, with the necessary admission that views on the issue have shifted over time for the nation as a whole.
Jeb Bush (R)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s stance on same-sex marriage and protection of rights for the LGBT community has changed a great deal since 1994 — largely in that his phrasing is considerably more measured and careful, and focuses less on the reality of being gay, and more on the legal concerns around LGBT-related legislation. Back in 1994 though, he argued that it was unreasonable to expect government to protect the rights of gays, arguing that “we have enough special categories, enough victims, without creating even more.”
“You imply that discrimination is always wrong … The governor — and the government — do not defend the conduct of every Floridian with equal verve and enthusiasm,” wrote Bush in an Op-Ed for the Miami Herald — provided by Newzwolf — going on to compare homosexuality to pedophiles and drunk drivers. “Should sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No.” In the same piece, he said individuals should not be denied jobs or housing because of their sexuality, but professed that “homosexuality is wrong.”
More recently, in 2013 he gave an interview with Newsmax, saying he felt the decision should be in states’ hands. “I would prefer it to be a state-by-state issue. That’s how we have dealt with a lot of issues in the United States.” In January of this year, he re-emphasized his opinion that it “ought to be a local decisions. I mean, a state decision,” according to The Huffington Post, bemoaning a court decision to open same-sex marriage to up in the state of Florida, where he was once governor. He has spoken in more sympathetic terms in recent years regarding same-sex relationships and the loving families created, but stands by his support for “traditional” marriage. Bush expresses respect for opposing views, but not agreement or support.
Hillary Clinton (D)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gone through her own significant transition on same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. In 1996, she admitted that she would likely have been in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at that time. In January 2000, she gave a speech, saying “Marriage has got historic, religious, and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman,” according to the New York Post. She added that she thought “people in committed gay marriages, as they believe them to be, should be given rights under the law that recognize and respect their relationships. And I think that’s a perfectly appropriate way to work it out.”
She marched in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade that same year which barred entrants fro the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization. Four years later, she once again professed her belief that marriage was between a man and a woman, but she also critiqued the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have made a constitutional amendment preventing marriages between any but heterosexual couples. In 2007, she marched in a gay pride parade, and in 2011 she addressed gay rights in a Geneva speech. As a matter of trivia, in 2014 she won Grindr’s “Gay Icon of the Year” award, following a somewhat tense interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, during which she defended what might appear to some to be a flip flop or cowardice to speak on same-sex marriage and LGBT rights for a period of her career.
“I did not grow up ever imagining gay marriage, and I don’t think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly, but surely, convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it,” said Clinton. “Just because you’re a politician doesn’t mean you’re not a thinking human being. You gather information, you think through positions, you’re not one hundred percent set, thank goodness.” Clinton is also fairly religious, giving talks for Methodist women, admitting freely her religion influences her as a person. In talking with Terry Gross, she mentioned the influence religion could have in considering same-sex marriage. “One of my big problems right now is that too many people believe they have a direct line to the divine and they never want to change their mind.”
Mike Huckabee (R)
For former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, religion is very much in play when he talks about same-sex marriage laws, and unlike other politicians, his views seem less likely to change with the times. “This is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue,” said Huckabee, also a Baptist minister, who’s supporters include a large population of evangelical Christians.
“As a biblical issue — unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, OK, I’m just going to evolve,” said Huckabee in an interview with CNN, also indirectly suggesting being gay is a choice, comparing LGBT relationships to enjoying “classical music,” enjoying alcohol, or choosing to “use profanity.” He is also in favoring of allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay customers on the basis of their religion, comparing it to a Jew choosing not to serve bacon in their deli — hardly a fitting comparison since in that case it would be a type of food, not a type of person not being served.
While he may not be willing to budge on the issue, he did say that the Republican party might, saying, according to Politico, that there is “room in the tent” for members of the GOP who are pro-same-sex marriage. “The very fact that I talk about the relationships I have with friends who are gay indicate that I’m not a person who shuts out everyone around me who disagrees with me,” he said.
Joe Biden (D)
In 1996, Joe Biden was a member on Congress and voted in favor of DOMA. In 2000, he voted to expand hate crimes to include sexual orientation and gender. In 2006, he voted against constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In 2003, he called gay marriage “an inevitability” according to the Washington Post, and in 2007 he spoke strongly in favor of LGBT in the military, saying, “I’ve been to Afghanistan, I’ve been to Iraq seven times, I’ve been in the Balkans, I’ve been in these foxholes with these kids, literally in bunkers with them. Let me tell you something, nobody asked anybody else whether they’re gay in those foxholes,” said Biden, according to On The Issues.
In an interview on Meet the Press he spoke ahead of what the president has publicly said, expressing his support for same-sex marriage. “I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, heterosexual — men and women marrying — are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties, and quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”
According to an interview with Biden in the Rolling Stones, the president had shared his opinions, even if they were not voiced publicly until after Biden’s own disclosure. “I walked in that Monday, he had a big grin on his face, he put his arms around me and said, ‘Well, Joe, God love you, you say what you mean.'”
Rand Paul (R)
Unlike many of his fellow Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has moved away from states’ rights arguments recently to an argument in favor not of “judges writing laws,” but instead judges “protect[ing] my freedom” and taking “an activist role in defense of liberty.” This argument is highly reminiscent of Attorney General Eric Holder’s past comparison of same-sex marriage bans to court battles over civil rights for African Americans. Holder — who was hardy a popular AG with Republicans — made the comparison while advising state AGs that they need not defend their states’ marriage bans should they prefer not to.
“If you have a Jim Crow majority in the South, does the court have a role in overturning something, where a person’s individual rights are at stake?” Paul asked, according to The Washington Times. “I think they do.” Previously, in 2013 and 2014, he was far more in favor of leaving the decision to the states, and in 2014 he said he believed in “old-fashioned traditional marriage,” and simply shrugged when asked if he might rethink the issue of gay marriage, according to a CNN interview. Prior to that, 2009 and before, he was openly against same-sex marriage and in favor of “traditional” marriage.
Chris Christie (R)
Recently, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined other Republicans, including Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, in stating that regardless of personal viewpoints, the courts have decisions made across states on same-sex marriage and these decisions must be adhered too until further changes to rulings come down from the Supreme Court. But more generally, Christie has made it clear that he does not support same-sex marriage, and that this hasn’t changed.
Despite his stance however, he has chosen to remain out of matters where he has no legal strength just for the sake of voicing an opinion — for example, by choosing to end a court case over the issue when it was clear his side had lost. “When I know that I’ve been defeated, you don’t bang your head against the wall anymore and spend taxpayer money to do it,” he said, according to Politico.
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS
More from Politics Cheat Sheet:
- Here’s How Alabama Became the 37th State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage
- How Has Grindr Award Winner Hillary Clinton Changed on Gay Rights?
- Huckabee Vs. SCOTUS: Could a Gay Marriage Ruling Really Be Challenged?
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