Since he officially announced his candidacy for president on Aug. 13, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) has reminded Republican voters of his support for a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Perry, who has emerged as one of the three leading GOP presidential contenders, has also reminded conservative party activists that he played a lead role in helping to pass a 2005 Texas constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Political observers have said Perry appears to be pushing his credentials as a same-sex marriage opponent following criticism he received from social conservative leaders last month, when he said the New York State Legislature’s approval of a same-sex marriage bill could be defended on the principle of states’ rights.
“Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex,” Perry told an audience in Aspen, Colo. “And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me,” he said.
“That is their call,” he added. “If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
Perry’s comments about the New York marriage bill drew an immediate outcry from anti-gay groups, including the Family Research Council. But in a subsequent interview with Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins, Perry noted that among his core beliefs is the view that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
While he remains a strong supporter of states’ rights, Perry told Perkins that the approval of same-sex marriage laws in states like New York could eventually lead to a situation where all states would have to recognize those marriages.
“Indeed to not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas and other states not to have marriage forced upon us by these activist judges and special interest groups,” he said.
Rumors that have surfaced in Texas over the past decade about Perry having an affair with a male member of his administration, and his concern over the unconfirmed reports, may explain why Perry hasn’t been as outspoken against LGBT issues as the other GOP candidates in the race, according to Michael Mitchell, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats.
The weekly Austin Chronicle, along with various state blogs, have reported on the rumors, some of which have questioned Perry’s sexual orientation. Perry’s supporters have called the rumors scurrilous, saying no evidence has ever surfaced to give them any credibility.
Perry announced his candidacy on the same day that U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) won the Iowa straw poll among GOP presidential contenders, elevating her position in the eyes of most political pundits as one of the three “top tier” Republican presidential candidates based on polling numbers, fundraising capability and other factors.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who didn’t compete in the Iowa straw poll, remains at the head of the pack of GOP presidential candidates, according to the pundits and polls. Perry is considered the other member of the top three.
Romney and Bachman have each come out strongly for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Bachmann, whose husband operates a discredited “ex-gay” counseling practice, captured 29 percent of the nearly 17,000 votes cast in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll.
Libertarian U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), came in second with 28 percent of the vote. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty came in third with 14 percent, prompting him to drop out of the presidential race.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum finished fourth with 10 percent, while businessman Herman Cain came in fifth with 9 percent.
Bachmann, Paul, Santorum, Cain, and Pawlenty have each expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. Pawlenty came under fire from conservative activists when he said he supported civil unions for same-sex couples.
Dennis Coleman, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Texas, said LGBT leaders in the state have yet to meet with Perry during his nearly 11 years as governor.
Perry won election as lieutenant governor in 1998 and assumed office as governor in 2000 when then-Gov. George W. Bush resigned after winning election as president. Perry won election to full terms as governor in 2002, 2006, and 2010.
Coleman said Perry this year signed two bills considered to be beneficial to the LGBT community, an anti-bullying measure and a suicide prevention measure. But Coleman noted that both bills enjoyed strong bipartisan support and did not include specific language mentioning LGBT people, even though the bills benefit LGBT youth who are subjected to bullying and susceptible to suicide.
According to Coleman and Mitchell, Perry has opposed nearly all LGBT-related bills introduced into the state legislature during his time as governor, including legislation to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mitchell said Perry nevertheless has not been as outspoken in his opposition to LGBT-related issues as many of the other GOP presidential candidates, especially Bachmann and Santorum.
Christian Berle, deputy executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a national LGBT group, praised Perry’s record in Texas on economic issues and his support for the anti-bullying and suicide prevention bills.
“We look forward to seeing Gov. Perry keep his commitment to states’ rights and the 10th Amendment when it comes to respecting the decisions of states to recognize relationships,” Berle said.