By Lisa Keen
Three different contests, three different winners, and none of the remaining four major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has a record of supporting equal rights for gays.
But the candidate who described laws banning sexual orientation discrimination as “religious bigotry” – Newt Gingrich – won Saturday’s South Carolina primary. Now, he must slug it out in Florida against Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum and New Hampshire primary winner Mitt Romney.
Gingrich won 40 percent of the vote in South Carolina’s primary, a primary in which 65 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelicals or born-again Christians. Romney took second place with 28 percent of the vote, followed by Santorum with 17 percent, Ron Paul with 13 percent. Two percent went to other candidates.
In his victory speech Saturday night, Gingrich hammered home his contention that “elites” and activist judges are threatening America with “religious bigotry.” He belittled President Obama’s opposition to a pipeline through the mid-section of the U.S. as “taking care of his extremist, left-wing friends in San Francisco.”
Many political analysts are attributing Gingrich’s success in South Carolina to his pugilistic performance in debates, his having served as a member of Congress from neighboring Georgia, and the fact that Romney has been stubbornly reluctant to release his tax returns to the public for scrutiny. And exit polling has shown that 65 percent of Republicans voting Saturday said the debates were an important factor in making their decisions. Of those who said that, 50 percent voted for Gingrich.
In debate Thursday night, Gingrich berated CNN moderator John King for asking Gingrich if he wanted to address his ex-wife’s widely publicized accusation that Gingrich had asked her to either agree to let him have a mistress or a divorce. While a highly conservative audience might normally be expected to scrutinize an allegation that a thrice-married candidate may not respect the “sanctity” of marriage, it, instead, seemed to embrace Gingrich’s attack against the “media elite.”
LGBT voters were likely more interested in examining the allegation against Gingrich because Gingrich has been opposed to marriages of same-sex couples. He told a debate audience in New Hampshire Jan. 8 that he did not support allowing same-sex couples to marry because it was “a huge jump from being understanding and considerate” of the pains of discrimination against same-sex couples and “saying we’re therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis.” Marriage, said Gingrich, was “between a man and a woman.”
Coming out of South Carolina, Gingrich now has 23 delegates toward the GOP nomination, which requires 1,144 to secure. Romney has 19 delegates, Santorum has 12, Ron Paul has 3, and Jon Huntsman (who pulled out of the race Monday) has 2.
Gingrich has already been campaigning in Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31 and 50 delegates to offer. While in Miami campaigning this month, Gingrich claimed that Romney appointed the judges who delivered the decision that led to same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses in Massachusetts. Romney did not. Three of the four justices who voted with the majority in that decision were appointed by other Republican governors; the fourth justice was a Democratic appointee.
It’s not clear how big an issue same-sex marriage, adoption, or other civil rights issues for LGBT people might be in Florida, but the Sunshine State – unlike the previous three states – has a significant gay Republican presence. There are Log Cabin Republican chapters in Miami, Broward County and Tampa Bay. And gay-related issues have been in the news regularly in Florida.