GOP Candidates Mark Gay Marriage Battle Lines
Policy + Politics

GOP Candidates Mark Gay Marriage Battle Lines

Across the Sunday morning talk shows today, high-profile members of the Republican Party, including a number of candidates for the 2016 presidential nomination, signaled the next move for the GOP on the issue of gay marriage following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on Friday.

Religious conservatives in particular appear to be set to fight a rear-guard action meant to preserve the right of those with religious objections to gay marriage to resist the ruling and refuse to provide goods and services to gays couples looking to get married.

Related: SCOTUS Gay Marriage Decision Is About More than Just ‘I Do’

That’s not to say some didn’t look for a way around the court’s ruling. Former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has been among the most vocal critics of the court decision, argued in an appearance on ABC's This Week that states aren’t obligated to observe the ruling until Congress acts on it.

“I'm not sure that every governor and every attorney general should just say, well, it's the law of the land," Huckabee said, "because there's no enabling legislation.”

“So, you're president today, let's assume that for a second,” said host George Stephanopolous. “Would you refuse to enforce this decision?”

“I would say when the Congress provides enabling legislation and the people's representatives vote and it gets to my desk, then we'll consider it,” Huckabee said.

Related: ‘Ask the Nearest Hippie’: 13 Highlights from Scalia’s Gay Marriage Dissent

Huckabee’s been pitching this line since the court agreed to hear Obergefell vs. Hodges, the case that determined the legality of gay marriage nationally. But the court ruling requires no such action as it creates no new powers or authorities for the federal government; it simply rules that laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

Huckabee then got to the point that many on the right are now advocating: the idea that Christian business owners could resist the ruling and denu goods or services to gay couples looking to wed, and that county clerks with a "conscientious objection" should be "excused" from granting them marriage licenses.

“May I ask, are we going to now discriminate against people of conscience, people of faith who may disagree with this ruling?” Huckabee said. “Are they going to be forced out of business, like the florist, the caterers, the photographers, like the CEO of Mozilla, who was run out of his job because of a personal contribution to support a proposition in California that actually won on the ballot?”

In a speech on Saturday, Huckabee had invoked Abraham Lincoln in suggesting that opponents of same-sex marriage disregard the Supreme Court decision in the way that the 16th president had ignored the court's decision in the Dred Scott case of 1857, which said that blacks could not be citizens. On Sunday, Huckabee involed another civil rights leader.

“I don't think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law,” Huckabee said.  “They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we're going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision."

GOP contender Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took a similar position speaking with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press. Responding to the possibility, floated by some on the right, of invalidating the Supreme Court’s decision by amending the Constitution to include a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, he instead said the focus ought to be on the individual rights of those who dissent.

“What I want to do is protect the religious liberties of those who believe that opposing same sex marriage as part of their faith,” Graham said. “So no, I would not engage in the Constitutional amendment process as a party going into 2016. Accept the Court's ruling. Fight for the religious liberties of every American.”

Related: Supreme Court Declares Gay Marriage Legal in U.S.

Also on Meet the Press, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination last week, said, “I think it is wrong for the federal government to force Christian individuals, businesses, pastors, churches, to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate our sincerely held religious beliefs,” Jindal said. “We have to stand up and fight for religious liberty. That’s where this fight is going.”

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, attorney Ted Olson, a conservative former solicitor general who has been a strong proponent of marriage equality, said that nevertheless, people who disagree with same-sex marriage retain the right to refuse “personal services” to gay couples.

With a constitutional amendment likely out of reach, it seems likely that the cause behind which same-sex marriage opponents will rally – particularly in the run-up to the 2016 elections – has now been defined. How it will play in the Republican primary is fairly clear. A large majority of GOP voters disagreed with the decision. But a candidate looking not just for the nomination, but for victory in the general election, will have to walk a fine line, because nearly 60 percent of all voters agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

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