December 8, 2011 at 4:22 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Huntsman: DOMA ‘serves a useful purpose’

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman said Thursday the Defense of Marriage Act “serves a useful purpose” in allowing states to decide the issue of marriage.

“It allows states to make their own decisions, to make their own way, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I think, is a safeguard for those states to make that decision,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman made the comments in response to a question from the Washington Blade during an event at the National Press Club in D.C., where he unveiled his “Restoring Trust” plan that he would pursue upon election to the White House.

Section 3 of DOMA prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Another component of the law, Section 2, allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages legalized in other jurisdictions, but legal observers have said that portion of the law is unnecessary because states have traditionally decided for themselves which marriages to recognize.

It isn’t the first time Huntsman has commented on the anti-gay law. The former Utah governor’s comments similarly called DOMA a “safeguard” when asked about same-sex marriage during an Aug. 22 appearance on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight.

But Huntsman made comments advocating for “fairness” — without an explicit mention of LGBT people — in response to another Blade question on the new Obama administration strategy and speech this week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocating for LGBT human rights overseas.

Asked whether he would pursue a similar strategy upon taking office, Huntsman said “getting our house in order” in treating each other in the United States with fairness will encourage other countries to do the same.

“When we do it right in this country, we exude values that the rest of the world seems to watch and emulate — values of individual dignity, liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets,” Huntsman said. “I think we ought to focus on getting our own house in order here in terms of how we treat one another, the respect we feel for one another, getting our economy back on track and fixing our core. If we can do that, I think the rest of the world will pay us a little more attention.”

Among the GOP contenders, Huntsman has been seen as strong on foreign issues because of his work as a foreign diplomat overseas, most recently as U.S. ambassador to China.

In the course of his answer, Huntsman reiterated his support for civil unions — acknowledging some in the GOP “might not always agree with that” — and said he believes in “equality under the law.”

Huntsman didn’t answer another component of the Blade question on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s criticism of the Obama administration’s new foreign policy strategy as being an example of the president “being at war with people of faith.”

Huntsman has been a favorite presidential candidate among LGBT Republicans. His support for civil unions and his support for generalized equality has made him distinct among other candidates.

But this support hasn’t translated to support for Huntsman nationwide. According to Gallup, Huntsman has as of Thursday support from just 1 percent of Republican registered voters nationwide. His low standing in the polls means he’ll be excluded from one of the last Republican presidential debates set for Saturday in Sioux City, Iowa.

Political observers have said Huntsman is staking his presidential campaign on the New Hampshire Republican primary, where he enjoys somewhat stronger support, although he’s still in the single digits in the polls.

A CNN/Time poll published Thursday found that Huntsman has support from 8 percent of likely Republican voters, which puts him in fourth place behind former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.).

A transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Huntsman follows:

Washington Blade: On Tuesday, the Obama administration made public a sweeping plan to confront anti-gay abuses overseas as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a high-profile speech in Geneva on the issue. Rick Perry criticized Obama for the move and said it’s an example of the administration being at war with people of faith in this country. Do you believe that advocating for LGBT people is consistent with principles of faith and would your administration take a similar stance against anti-gay abuses overseas?

Jon Huntsman: I believe in fairness. I think that should be a guiding principle of all Americans. I believe in civil unions — I know some might not always agree with that. I believe in equality under the law. I believe that, from this country, we can lead by example. I believe that we are a shining light the rest of the world looks to. I found that to be the case living overseas four times. And when we do it right in this country, we exude values that the rest of the world seems to watch and emulate — values of individual dignity, liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets. I think we ought to focus on getting our own house in order here in terms of how we treat one another, the respect we feel for one another, getting our economy back on track and fixing our core. If we can do that, I think the rest of the world will pay us a little more attention.

Blade: If I could just follow up on that really quickly, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage — even in states where it’s already legalized. As a matter of states’ rights, do you think it should be repealed?

Huntsman: I think the Defense of Marriage Act serves a useful purpose. It allows states to make their own decisions, to make their own way, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I think, is a safeguard for those states to make that decision.

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

  • I think that this is the most progressive stance a Republican has ever taken on DOMA. He doesn’t think it should stand because he doesn’t like us, but rather because it gives states the ability to figure things out on their own. While this certainly isn’t the ideal route marriage advocates want, the mindset behind it is refreshing, especially given Perry’s God,Guns,Gays attempt of an ad.

    • Absolutely. The only problem is the degree of nuance. Will the statement be interpreted as you’ve laid out, or seen as offensive by the marriage advocates before they put it in context?

  • Who cares about politicians who pander for votes? We are in the courts now and that is all
    that should concern LGBT people. Everything else, particularly on the right is just a big
    political freak show. (Hillary Clinton’s U.N. Human Rights Council speech is one bright

    • Totally agree. People tend to forget that with very few exceptions advances in equality and civil rights have been gained through the judiciary not legislatively. In fact when faced with judicial decrees, legislators have shown themselves to be quite creative in coming up with ways to maintain discriminatory practices and perpetuate the status quo, forcing the courts to act more definitively and yes, in some ways legislate from the bench.

  • Yes, this is the least repulsive of the Republican candidates’ positions on same sex couples’ right to marry. But it is still repulsive. And it is wrong. DOMA does not serve to allow states to pursue their own paths, it prohibits the Federal government from conferring benefits upon legally married couples if they happen to be same-sex couples.

    Huntsman is the most palatable simply because the others are so vile.

  • Huntsman, like all other Republican Politicians, Fails to address the inherent In-Equality with the Federal Government Not Acknowledging Legal Gay Marriages.

    One can SAY they “believe in Fairness”, but NO Republican Politician ever puts his words into Deeds – There have been ZERO Bills proposed – NONE.

  • Ok, so there is simple solution to all this. Allow states (that want to) to implement ‘civil unions’ that will be the same as marriage except not in name. Then, for every federal benefit for which marriage is a factor, introduce ‘civil union’ alongside ‘marriage’ and ‘civil partner’ alongside ‘spouse’ as a legal category. This would then allow every couple in a civil union to be afforded the same rights and priviledges as those in marriages, without compromising the federal definition of ‘marriage’. This would hopefully keep the Republicans happy and all you would need is a bill to introduce the ‘civil union’ and ‘civil partner’ as a category in federal law. Not idea I know, but it is certainly a realistic and acheiveable compromise.

    • You have an interesting idea there, but if the “I’m against gay marriage, but I support civil unions” people really do support civial unions with all of the rights that are conferred upon heterosexual married couples, then why hasn’t any of them introduced such a compromise? I suspect that it’s because they not only don’t want gay people to have “marriage,” they don’t want us to have anything that is marriage-like.

  • DOMA only allows states to come to ONE conclusion–that gay marriage is wrong. In the case of every state that has sided with the protections of the 14th Amendment, not one of them has had the federal government support their laws.

    DOMA is a mean-spirited, bigoted law that will die a very public and humiliating death in the Supreme Court.

  • What if each state was given the option to decide the issue of slavery?

  • Gov. Huntsman is a breath of fresh air among G.O.P. candidates, I believe he is good man, however “marriage” in its common denominator in America is basically a “legal commitment” entered into by consenting adults, (I should know, I’ve been married 3 times) it is a “contract” legally binding, and should be open to all consenting adults, regardless of sexual orientation. Religious Conservatives love to hide behind the “scriptures” as reason to oppose this, however the scriptures also “condemn” heterosexuals “living together” unmarried, they also call for “woman to be silent in Church” tell me one denomination that still follows these archaic “rules” I firmly believe as long as ANY 2 adults mutually agree on a “marriage contract” who is the State to deny them? J. Duffy

  • @frankjc and Spencer and anyone else who thinks the courts, specifically the Supreme Court, will rule in favor or lgbt equality in any of the pending or prospective cases:

    Get real. It is not clear that the SC as presently constituted would find DOMA, Prop. 8 (or any other discriminatory laws that are being challenged) unconstitutional or otherwise impermissible. And if a Republican (any of the possible nominees, including Huntsman) is elected President next year, there is a very good chance that the likely retirements/replacements will shift the Court sharply toward the Scalia/Thomas wing. Meaning that the Court is more likely to limit or overturn Lawrence v. Texas than it is to strike down any part of DOMA.

  • Even the most “pro-gay” GOP contender won’t clearly state his position, in the hope that it’ll please enough gays to get him some money and please enough bigots to get him some votes.

    You CANNOT simultaneously support equality and Section 3 of DOMA. Unless you’re a liar, of course.

  • Someone needs to remind Mr Perry that what Mr Obama has done is more Christ like than he has been. Jesus stepped in and kept a prostitute from being stoned, telling the crowd that the one who is sin free should throw the first stone, no one was so they left in peace. The US stepping up and speaking out for LGBT people around the world mirrors Jesus far more than any of the hate coming from Mr. Perry’s mouth.

    As for DOMA, it is nothing but discrimination. We have been together for 11 years, legally married for 3 now, yet on my SSDI, Medicare and Medical it lists me as single. I have to pay out more for my medical expenses because I am single, if something happens to me while I am on dialysis and I die, my husband gets nothing, how is that anything but discrimination? We have paid the same taxes, played by the same rules, yet we are not treated the same.

  • You simply cannot say you support equality under the law and also say you support DOMA. Equality, and laws like DOMA that restrict equality are fundamentally incompatible.

  • We already have “civil marriage”: go to city hall and get married and God isn’t invoked at all. Why are people so willing to surrender marriage to the churches? Marriage is a right for us all, let’s keep it.

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