October 20, 2011 at 12:52 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Rising Cain

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The new GOP presidential frontrunner continues to make headlines on LGBT issues as both pro-LGBT advocates and anti-gay forces express concerns about his candidacy.

Hermain Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, said Sunday in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he wouldn’t push for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage if he were elected president.

“I wouldn’t seek a constitutional ban for same sex marriage, but I am pro-traditional marriage,” Cain said.

Pressed by host David Gregory on whether states should decide the issue for themselves, Cain replied, “They would make up their own minds, yes.”

Cain’s remarks on “Meet the Press” echo comments he made in June during a New Hampshire presidential debate in which he said the issue of marriage should be a “state’s decision.”

The candidate’s lack of support for a Federal Marriage Amendment differentiates him from other Republican candidates — including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum — who’ve called for a Federal Marriage Amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country.

The former pizza magnate has come under fire from social conservatives for not endorsing a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as other GOP candidates have done.

In an interview Sunday with Radio Iowa, Santorum said Cain wouldn’t defend the family as president and compared his position on marriage to President Obama’s.

“The idea that this issue should be left to the states is the position Barack Obama takes and it’s not the right position,” Santorum said. “There needs to be a uniform definition of marriage in this country.”

The National Organization for Marriage has also targeted Cain for not signing the organization’s pledge to oppose marriage equality as president by backing a Federal Marriage Amendment and defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month that he hopes Cain will come around to endorse a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“Cain’s comments on a federal marriage amendment have not always been crystal clear and consistent,” Brown said. “I personally hope that means he is in the process of ‘evolving’ on the issue, as the campaign moves forward.”

Despite his position on the amendment, Cain’s lack of support for a Federal Marriage Amendment isn’t winning him any support from LGBT advocates.

Dan Pinello, a gay government professor at the City University of New York, said the LGBT community shouldn’t look to Cain as being more sympathetic than the other Republican candidates.

“The difference among those right-wing Republican candidates on LGBT issues is the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” Pinello said, “It’s just as simple as that. There isn’t any consequential difference. They hate us, generally, period.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, questioned the authenticity of Cain’s remarks on Sunday and said the candidate has “been all over the map” on a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage.

“It’s not entirely clear where he stands on this,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Certainly his positions have not been consistent.”

In 2004, while running as a U.S. Senate candidate in Georgia, Cain issued a statement against the Masssachusetts court decision that brought marriage equality to the Bay State and called for a U.S. constitutional amendment to rescind the ruling.

“The courts have failed the American people,” Cain said at the time. “Congress needs to enact a constitutional amendment to protect the sacred institution of marriage.”

Cain continued, “Liberal-minded judges have opened a floodgate of judicial tyranny that will chip away at the core values of this country until nothing sacred is left! It started with not allowing prayer in schools, not being able to display the Ten Commandments, attempting to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance and now making same-sex marriages legal.”

The assertion that Cain’s position on marriage is the same as Obama’s doesn’t hold up.

For starters, in addition to opposing a Federal Marriage Amendment, Obama voted against the measure as a U.S. senator. Cain has also pledged to defend DOMA in court and has criticized Obama for dropping his defense of the 1996 anti-gay statute in court cases.

Cain also came under fire from LGBT advocates earlier this month for saying that he believes homosexuality is a choice and science hasn’t proven otherwise.

Additionally, Cain said in a January radio interview with anti-gay conservative Bryan Fischer that he would veto the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if it reached his desk. Said Cain, “I would veto that relative to special rights to homosexuals.”

Cole-Schwartz said a Cain presidency would “be a tremendous problem for the LGBT community” based on the candidate’s positions and history.

“Just recently, his comments that being gay is a choice and suggesting that the science proves his point just shows that these are not issues that he has spent time thinking about in a positive way,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Even so, Cain’s positions on some LGBT issues continue to differentiate him among the other Republican candidates.

Earlier this month, Cain told the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein he has no problems with openly gay people serving in the military and wouldn’t seek to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if elected president.

“I will not seek it, but I think it is a distraction at this point,” Cain said. “Wherever the military is, the day that I take office, I’m not going to stir that pot because I think it’s an unnecessary distraction at this point.”

Other Republican presidential candidates — including Santorum and Bachmann — have said they would reinstate the gay ban.

However, Cain added he will “listen” if military leaders want “something different” on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and said if it were never repealed, he would have “been fine with it.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Cain has often been “inconsistent” on LGBT issues over the course of his campaign.

“I do think on a macro he’s much more approachable, but there has been some back and forth,” Cooper said. “He’s in a sense demurring in larger public fora on these issues, but when you put him before a more conservative audience, he seems to obviously lean a bit more right.”

Cain’s positions on LGBT issues could become of greater interest if he’s nominated to carry the Republican banner in the general election.

Several polls published over the weekend have Cain leading the Republican candidates or at least have him tied with Romney.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Survey conducted earlier this month found Cain leading the pack with support from 27 percent of respondents. Romney came in second with 23 percent of support.

A Public Policy Poll published last week gives him even greater national standing with support of 30 percent of responders while Romney comes in second at 22 percent.

Cain has become known for proposing a “9-9-9 plan” for tax reform, which would replace the current tax code with a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent business transactions tax, and a 9 percent federal sales tax.

Whether Cain will remain at the top of the pack remains to be seen. Other Republican candidates — such as Bachmann and Perry — have shown similar strength in the polls, but later faltered. Romney has consistently been in first or second place in polls as the primary season has geared up.

Pinello said the reason for Cain’s current standing in the polls — as well as the rise and fall of other candidates — is because the religious right and the Tea Party factions of the Republican Party are “desperate to find” an alternative to Romney.

“A year or so ago, Sarah Palin had a flirtation with the Tea Party and the religious right, and then four months ago, the fascination was with Michele Bachmann,” Pinello said. “Then it was Rick Perry, then it was Chris Christie, and now it’s Herman Cain. It’s a series of infatuations with each of these candidates, which, for a host reasons tend quickly to crash and burn.”

Cooper said Cain has started a debate on tax reform with his 9-9-9 plan, but doesn’t think his candidacy will have much traction.

“I suspect that he’s enjoying what he’s doing, but I don’t think he really intends to go all way,” Cooper said. “Maybe this is his way of setting himself up for a potential cabinet appointment.”

Pinello predicted Cain’s standing would fade because of the candidate’s lack of money and organization. According to the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Cain has raised $5.3 million thus far in the election cycle, while Romney has raised $32.2 million and Perry has raised $17.1 million.

“He just relied entirely upon these debates for promoting himself, and that’s not adequate in a rigorous primary, let alone a general election,” Pinello said. “So, I think he’s a flash in the pan just like the others were. Next month, it’ll be someone else.”


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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