April 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Will GOP candidates attack marriage in Iowa, N.H.?

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich arranged for the donation of $200,000 to the Iowa campaign in the 2010 election that successfully ousted three justices who in ruled in favor of same-sex marriage from the bench. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The kick-off of the 2012 election season — marked by potential Republican presidential candidates’ travels to the early primary and caucus states of Iowa and New Hampshire — is raising questions about the degree to which the GOP candidates pursuing the White House will attack same-sex marriage in these states where gay nuptials are legal.

The issue of marriage could come to the fore during the early stages of the 2012 race because it will be the first presidential election in which same-sex marriage is legal in the first two states to hold primaries. In Iowa, where same-sex marriage was enacted by court order, the Republican caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 6, and in New Hampshire, where marriage equality was enacted through legislation, the Republican primary is expected Feb. 14.

Many of the potential Republican presidential contenders are already on the record in their opposition to same-sex marriage or have histories working against the advancement of marriage rights for gay couples. For example, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty have come out in favor of state and federal constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

According to Politico, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who’s pushed for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in her home state, railed against marriage equality on Monday in a speech at the latest installment of the Iowa Family Leader’s presidential lecture series.

“In 5,000 years of recorded human history… neither in the East or in the West… has any society ever defined marriage as anything other than between men and women,” Bachmann was quoted as saying. “Not one in 5,000 years of recorded human history. That’s an astounding fact and it isn’t until the last 12 years or so that we have seen for the first time in recorded human history marriage defined as anything other than between men and women.”

Bachmann also reportedly called Iowa judges “black-robed masters” for legalizing same-sex marriage, echoing a line she used during a previous trip to the state.

“That’s what you had here in Iowa: black-robed masters,” Bachmann said. “They are not our masters. They are not our morality. They are not put there to make the decisions.”

Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich arranged for the donation of $200,000 to the Iowa campaign in the 2010 election that successfully ousted three justices who in ruled in favor of same-sex marriage from the bench. David Lane, executive director of Iowa for Freedom, the organization that led the campaign, reportedly said the ouster of the justices “wouldn’t have happened without Newt.”

“Newt provided strategic advice and arranged the initial seed money, about $200,000, which is what got everything started,” Lane was quoted as saying.

During the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in February., former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum told the Washington Blade that one law should govern marriage throughout the country as he reiterated support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“I was one of the authors of the Federal Marriage Amendment,” Santorum said. “I don’t think you can have varying laws on marriage. You run into, as we’re seeing, all sorts of problems about reciprocity between the states. This is an issue that there should be a law, the people should be able to decide it and hopefully that’s what will happen.”

Still, as he reiterated his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, Santorum also said the economy and national security should precede marriage as issues of importance in the 2012 election.

Other lower-tier candidates have positions different from full-throated opposition to same-sex marriage. Former U.S. ambassador to China and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has endorsed civil unions, which is the same position on relationship recognition for same-sex couples that President Obama has. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has called for a truce on social issues, which has earned him criticism from social conservatives within the Republican Party, although he has wavered on his position on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in his own state.

Fred Karger, a Republican political strategist and the first openly gay presidential candidate, told the Washington Blade he plans to speak out for same-sex marriage during his campaign as he predicted that other GOP presidential contenders will speak out against marriage as they seek support in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“It will be an issue,” Karger said. “Some of the Republicans running plan on making it an issue. I’m doing my best to stop that and talk about the advantage of gay marriage and just working in both states to move on to more important issues.”

Karger, who gained notoriety after he shed light on the Mormon Church’s involvement in Proposition 8, said he’ll “absolutely” advocate for preserving the right to same-sex marriage in Iowa and New Hampshire over the course of his presidential campaign.

“I think every other Republican who is considering running is adamantly opposed to gay marriage, and then you’ve got the gay candidate who is, of course, the only full equality candidate running in both parties,” Karger said.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said he thinks the marriage issue will figure prominently during the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary because of the nature of the voters in these elections.

“We’re talking about GOP primary voters and caucus-goers, and these are much more conservative than the general population — especially those attending a caucus,” Sabato said.

Sabato said he expects the candidates to express strong opposition same-sex marriage in Iowa because of the fundamentalist Christian influence on the Republican Party in the state and because it has become what he called a “big statewide issue.”

But in New Hampshire, where the state slogan is “Live Free or Die,” Sabato said social issues “may play less well.” Still, he observed candidates are stuck with publicly articulated positions wherever they go.

“Romney probably isn’t playing in Iowa so he’s under less pressure [to speak out against same-sex marriage],” Sabato said. “The candidates who are going to contest Iowa will have to tow the line on same-sex marriage. A handful will trumpet their position and make it a centerpiece of their campaigns. Examples: Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.”

Advocates who work on both sides of the marriage issue are urging Republican candidates to take strong positions either for or against same-sex marriage — depending on where the advocates stand — as the primary season approaches.

Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, said via e-mail she thinks a Republican candidate who has a position other than opposition to same-sex marriage would not do well in the presidential campaign.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that any candidate who does not support marriage as the union of husband and wife will be a major player for the GOP nomination,” Gallagher said. “If NOM has done nothing else in our first three years (stop: and I think we’ve done more), we’ve clearly demonstrated electorally that it is a really bad idea to be for gay marriage if you are a Republican.”

But Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said Republican presidential candidates should look to other high-profile Republicans who have endorsed same-sex marriage — such as gay former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former U.S. solicitor general Ted Olson and former first lady Laura Bush — to determine how they should stand on the issue.

“With poll after poll showing majority support nationwide and increasing momentum in favor of the freedom to marry in virtually every part of the population, it’s in the best interests of Republicans to look to the right side of history, not the right-wing,” Wolfson said.

Still, Wolfson said he expects many Republican candidates would seek to appease social conservatives and “pander to hard-core anti-gay opposition” on the issue of marriage as they pursue their presidential ambitions.

“Such candidates will soon discover that bashing gay families and marriage does not play — and not just in the general electorate, but in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire where non-gay as well as gay family members have seen firsthand how neighbors, kin, and communities are strengthened by the freedom to marry — and the love, commitment and connectedness at its core,” Wolfson said.

The potential renewed attention to same-sex marriage as part of the upcoming presidential campaign also raises questions about whether marriage equality in Iowa and New Hampshire would be in jeopardy as a result of high-profile leaders coming to the states and speaking out against gay nuptials.

Rescinding same-sex marriage in Iowa couldn’t happen easily because marriage was put into place in 2009 as a result of a ruling by the state Supreme Court. Overturning the decision would require ratification of a state constitutional amendment. In Iowa, passage of such a measure requires approval in both chambers of the legislature in two concurrent sessions followed by a majority vote of approval from the electorate, so the earliest same-sex marriage could be undone is 2013.

On Feb. 1, the Republican-controlled Iowa State House approved a constitutional amendment by vote of 62-37, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) has vowed to block the amendment in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Troy Price, interim executive director of One Iowa, said he expects Republican presidential candidates to come to Iowa and speak out against same-sex marriage as his organization works to protect marriage equality.

“However, while they try to make this an issue, they are in no way speaking for all the Republicans in Iowa,” Price said. “Earlier this year, former Republican State Senator Jeff Angelo – who sponsored a marriage ban amendment five years ago – came out against current efforts to pass the Anti-Marriage Equality Amendment and write discrimination into our constitution, and we know that there are many other Republicans out there who feel the same way.”

Even with candidates’ rhetoric against same-sex marriage, Price said he remains “confident as ever that marriage will be protected.”

The legalization of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire could be in greater danger because it was enacted through the legislative process and could be repealed. Gov. John Lynch (D) has pledged to veto any repeal legislation that comes to his desk, but the Republican supermajority of the legislature seated last year could find sufficient votes to override his veto to undo the marriage law. A vote on repeal legislation is expected in the House in January, which would be shortly before the Republican presidential primary.

Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, said marriage equality remains popular in the state.

“I don’t think the candidates necessarily want to deal with this issue,” she said. “It’s actually pretty popular in New Hampshire — marriage equality. There’s really strong opposition to repealing it, and I just know if I were a candidate, I would want to weigh in on that.”

Rev. Gene Robinson (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rev. Gene Robinson, the gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in New Hampshire, said last month in a Center for American Progress conference call that LGBT rights supporters in his state “are nervous and aware” of the possible impact on the Republican presidential primary, but nonetheless feels assured that marriage equality will remain on the books.

“We’re assuming that there will be a fight to repeal the marriage equality law in New Hampshire,” Robinson said. “There is a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate. Clearly, the governor will veto a repeal if it comes through, but I’m fairly confident that we will get enough Republicans with us that we will forestall a veto.”

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

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