By Lisa Keen
It was one of only four questions posed to each Republican presidential hopeful Oct. 22 at Knapp Animal Learning Center in Des Moines, during a conservative forum: “What, specifically, would you do to prevent abortion-on-demand and protect traditional marriage?”
Some of the specifics offered came across like last-hand poker bets. Rick Santorum would go to “every single state” to wage campaigns against judges who strike down same-sex marriage bans. Ron Paul would push for a bill to remove such issues from the jurisdiction of the courts. And Newt Gingrich said he would “abolish” or “ignore” courts with which he did not agree and said Congress should have written language into the Defense of Marriage Act to make it not appealable.
The fact that all six candidates at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition forum in Des Moines were eager to wear their opposition to same-sex marriage so boldly was not a surprise. Steve Scheffler heads the Coalition, formerly known as the Iowa Christian Alliance,, and Scheffler has been an active opponent of same-sex marriage in Iowa. Some media speculate he can sway a significant number of right-wing conservative caucus-goers into a candidate’s camp.
What was surprising, however, is that none of the six – which also included Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry (Mitt Romney declined to participate) – brought up the issue on their own. Each delivered a 10 to 15-minute speech prior to taking on the questions, and it appeared that many of the candidates were in the room while questions were asked of other candidates.
In her 15-minute speech, Bachmann did tout “standing against Barney Frank on the Financial Services Committee – I have done that.” But she made no mention of her leadership against same-sex marriage until Scheffler asked her the question.
Ron Paul, introduced as the champion of civil liberties and the constitution, also eschewed any mention of same-sex marriage in his prepared remarks, while walking a political tightrope. He said the family has been “diminished” in recent years, but hinted it was because the government had grown too big. He also expressed his concern that the law has “accommodated to the moral standards of the people” and urged that Americans take their civil liberties as seriously as they do their religious freedoms.
“We are careless with our constitution. We have a weak understanding of civil liberties,” said Paul. “We have to think about our civil liberties as we think about our religious freedom…If we understand our civil liberties, protecting all the liberties of an individual, as well as obeying the constitution, I really don’t think it will be that difficult to get back on our feet again.”
Rick Perry said nothing about same-sex marriage, even when asked for specifics. He said only that he would put “strict constructionists on the court” that would “overthrow Roe v. Wade.”
Herman Cain, who has begun to punch his speeches up with such catchy zingers as “Stupid people are ruining America,” responded to the question by supporting a “constitutional guarantee for traditional marriage” and judges to enforce that.
Even Santorum, who has carved out a niche for himself as the anti-abortion, pro-family, anti-gay marriage candidate, stuck to his anti-abortion theme, with only a fleeting reference to his desire to “strengthen the American family, strengthen marriage.”
When asked for specifics, he complained that other candidates “say they support traditional marriage and support a constitutional ban on gay marriage,” but “they don’t support getting involved in the states to make sure the states don’t pass … marriage different from one man and one woman.”
“Will they go to the states and fight it where the fight is?” asked Santorum. “I did.” He reminded the audience that, last year, he was part of the successful campaign in Iowa to oust three state supreme court justices who ruled the state constitution requires same-sex couples be treated the same as straight couples in the issuance of marriage licenses.
Evoking the memory of President Abraham Lincoln and the fight to abolish slavery, Santorum promised to “come back and make sure we not only defeat those justices…but go to every single state…Then, one by one, the judicial opinions will come down.”
Gingrich, in a rambling answer that mashed both abortion and same-sex marriage issues together, expressed his belief that he could, as president, simply abolish a court with which he disagreed. He pointed to President Thomas Jefferson as his role model and, with a wildly expressionist interpretation of federal court history, cavalierly suggested that Jefferson waltzed into the presidency and “abolished” half the federal judge positions.
He then demurred, saying, “I am not as bold as Jefferson,” but said he would “recommend” that the court of a federal judge in San Antonio – who ruled against prayer at a high school graduation ceremony – “should be abolished now.”
“Presidents, on occasion, ignore the court,” said Gingrich. He noted that a few instances in which presidents ignored a Supreme Court ruling.
“As president,” said Gingrich, “I would instruct the national security apparatus to ignore the three most recent Supreme Court decisions on terrorism and I would say, ‘Those are null and void and have no binding effect on the United States, and as commander in chief I will not have a federal judge risking the safety of the United States with some misguided interpretation’.” Then he said he would “serve notice” to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals – a circuit where a number of important LGBT civil rights rulings have emerged – “that they are on sufferance and if they decide to continue being radical, they will become unemployed.”
And on his first day as president, said Gingrich, he would sign four executive orders – one of which would reinstate the President George W. Bush’s “Conscience Rule” to authorize any health care worker, hospital, or insurance company to refuse, in Gingrich’s words, “any activity against their religious beliefs.”
The crowd loved it.