The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to comply with that made for a fiery exchange between lower tier Republican candidates at the pre-debate on Wednesday.
While former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal defended Davis, former New York Gov. George Pataki said he would have fired her and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made the case for rule of law.
Jindal initiated the issue when CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked if the controversial news story of Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed being arrested after showing a digital clock he created to police represents discrimination in the country.
“Right now the biggest discrimination going on is Christian business owners and individuals who believe in traditional forms of marriage,” Jindal said.
Invoking the story of Davis being held in contempt of court for defying court orders to issue marriage licenses, Jindal said the public should talk about Christian business owners having to pay thousands of dollars in penalties for violating civil rights laws for discriminating against LGBT people. These penalties, Jindal said, amount to “discrimination against Christians.”
Graham responded to the issue by saying he’s “not worried” about Kim Davis attacking him when the United States has “radical Islamic terrorists who are already here planning another 9/11.”
“Here’s the reality: Young men from the Mideast are different than Kim Davis, and we’ve got to understand that,” Graham said.
But Pataki, who despite his opposition to same-sex marriage has the reputation for being the most LGBT-supportive Republican presidential candidate, shot back by articulating a starkly different view about Davis.
“We have one rule of law in America, and an elected official can’t say that I’m going to fire that law if it conflicts with my beliefs,” Pataki said. “I think she should have been fired, and if she had worked for me, I would have fired her. We have to uphold the rule of law.”
As Tapper tried to cut Pataki off for running out of time, the candidate urged his audience to imagine their reaction if Davis was a Muslim who said she couldn’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples out of religious concerns.
“We wouldn’t have had that outrage,” Pataki said. “There is a place where religion supersedes the rule of law. It’s called Iran. It shouldn’t be the United States.”
Tapper posed the question to Santorum on whether he agrees with Pataki and the former U.S. senator expressed a differing view by recalling the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.
“Sixteen years ago this country was tremendously inspired by a young woman who faced a gunman in Columbine, and was challenged about her faith and she refused to deny God,” Santorum said. “Today, someone who refuses who defy a judge’s unconstitutional verdict is ridiculed and criticized, chastised, because she’s standing up and not denying her God and her faith. That is a huge difference in 16 years.”
Citing the importance of religious freedom under the First Amendment, Santorum called for passage of the First Amendment Defense Act, federal religious freedom legislation seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, and for a president willing to stand up to a Supreme Court he called “abusive.”
“Judicial supremacy is not in the Constitution and we need a president and a Congress to stand up to a court when it exceeds its constitutional authority,” Santorum said.
Asked for his response to Santorum’s point, Pataki replied, “Wow. We’re going to have a president who defies the Supreme Court because they don’t agree,” prompting Santorum to interrupt with “I hope so if they’re wrong.”
When Pataki said in that case the country doesn’t have rule of law, Santorum said, “You don’t have the rule of law when the court has the final say.”
Pataki disputed the notion the Supreme Court has the final say on the basis that elected officials and people have ways under the Constitution to respond.
“When you’re an elected official and when you take an oath of office to uphold the law, all the laws, you cannot pick and choose, or you no longer have a society that depends on rule of law,” Pataki said.
In response, Santorum invoked the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ from Martin Luther King, Jr., saying the civil rights leader knew a law should be disregarded when it violates God’s law or nature’s law.
“I would argue that what the Supreme Court did is against the natural, it’s against God’s law and we have every obligation to stand in opposition to it,” Santorum said.
Pataki added he doesn’t agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage, but said it is the law of the land.
“I’m a great admirer of Martin Luther King and he was prepared to break the law, but it wasn’t in an office of political power, it was civil disobedience where what he was willing to do was voluntarily go to jail with his followers to send a message to elected representatives that these laws were wrong and have to be changed,” Pataki said.
At this point, Jindal chimed in to say “the left” should provide a list of jobs they no longer want Christians to have in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage.
“If we’re not allowed to be clerks, bakers, musicians, are we allowed to be pastors anymore?” Jindal said.
Touting the First Amendment, Jindal said, “America did not create religious liberty; religious liberty created the United States of America. It is the reason we’re here today.”
Asked to weigh in, Graham at first responded by joking he wasn’t the best law student and the end of the pre-debate will mark the longest time ever he’s spent in any library, but noted on the first day students learn about Marbury v. Madison.
“The group in our constitutional democracy that interprets the Constitution as to what it means is the Supreme Court,” Graham said. “In a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, they have ruled that same-sex marriage bans at the state level violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution Equal Protection Clause. I don’t agree with it, but that is the law of the land.”
Graham said he wants religious people to know they can marry people consistent with their faith and that will be the No. 1 priority of his administration.
“Whether you’re the wedding cake baker, or the gay couple, or the Baptist pastor…let’s not lose sight of the big picture here,” Graham said.