January 21, 2015 at 5:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Ted Cruz: Courts shouldn’t overturn gay marriage bans
Ted Cruz, Texas, Republican Party, United States Senate, Values Voters Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Ted Cruz said judges shouldn’t overturn bans on same-sex marriage. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman).

President Obama gave a strong indication during the State of the Union address on Tuesday he believes the U.S. Constitution guarantees marriage rights for same-sex couples, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) doesn’t share that view.

Immediately following the president’s speech, the likely 2016 Republican presidential contender said in the U.S. Capitol that courts shouldn’t be able to strike down bans on same-sex marriage when asked by the Washington Blade if he agrees with Obama’s view that marriage equality is a “story of freedom” and “a civil right.”

“Well, he is certainly entitled to his views, and I think the proper place to debate those issues is in the legislative chambers,” Cruz replied. “I’m a constitutionalist. From the beginning of this country, marriage has been a question of the states, and we should not have the federal government, or unelected judges, setting aside the policy judgment of the elected legislatures and imposing their own instead.”

As he announced in October, Cruz told the Blade he still intends to introduce a constitutional amendment that would prohibit judges from overturning state laws on marriage, but suggested courts already lack the authority to rule in favor of marriage equality.

“Because, as I said, I’m a constitutionalist,” Cruz said. “If a state chooses to adopt gay marriage, that’s within its constitutional authority to do so, but if it chooses not to, if it chooses traditional marriage, that is also within its constitutional purview. Part of the genius of the framers of our Constitution was allowing for the now 50 states to be laboratories of democracy, to adopt and reflect different policy choices state by state.”

Cruz made the remarks in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to hear cases seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples filed in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee in what is widely anticipated as the first step in delivering a nationwide ruling on the issue. Additionally, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals seemed poised to strike down the ban on same-sex marriage in the Republican senator’s own state of Texas.

Evan Wolfson, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Marry, said the Constitution is in place to protect the rights of Americans that public officials like Cruz would attempt to strip away.

“The states are ‘laboratories’ of democracy, but they operate within the ‘protocol’ of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to marry and equal protection of the laws — a floor beneath which the states may not sink,” Wolfson said. “Sen. Cruz seems to forget that the Constitution he claims to revere rests on the bedrock American principle that not everything is put up to a vote, and that judges, elected or otherwise, are there as a central part of the checks and balances that make sure our rights as Americans are not vulnerable to the agendas and ambitions of elected politicians like Ted Cruz.”

Stephen Peters, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, also criticized Cruz for suggesting the Constitution doesn’t protect all Americans.

“While Sen. Cruz claims to be a “constitutionalist,” he conveniently ignores the fundamental element of the Constitution that guarantees equal protection of the law for all Americans, including LGBT people,” Peters said. “Loving and committed same-sex couples deserve the same rights, responsibilities and privileges that come with marriage, and the Supreme Court will hopefully soon affirm this. Sen. Cruz’s defiant efforts to try to stop marriage equality place him not only on the wrong side of history, but in a shameful group of people who deplorably use their influence to repress minorities.”

By maintaining that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow courts to rule against bans on same-sex marriage, Cruz is placing himself in the the same company as another presidential hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was recently critical of a court decision that led to marriage equality in Florida. But they stand in contrast to comments from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said despite disagreements “we have to respect the rule of law.”

Ian Sams, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said Cruz was presenting tired, anti-gay rhetoric.

“Ted Cruz follows in a long line of crusaders who couch their anti-equality agenda in the language of process,” Sams said. “LGBT Americans deserve equal treatment under the law and access to the same rights as straight Americans – from protection against discrimination to marrying the person they love. While Cruz lives in the past and introduces anti-marriage equality legislation in Congress, progress for marriage equality is being made across the country and in the courts. And that’s a good thing.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Cruz’s views are the same as Hillary Clinton’s.

“What I find most interesting about Sen. Cruz’s remarks is the sensitivity with which he is now couching the issue,” Angelo said. “Far from a firebrand preaching that marriage equality will lead to the collapse of society, he is now adopting a stance that marriage should be left to the states to decide — the same opinion that Hillary Clinton has. That said, you can’t champion states’ rights and a federal marriage amendment at the same time; they don’t mesh.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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