Rick Perry, the three-term Texas governor and probable GOP presidential candidate, gave social conservatives a scare Friday when he said that same-sex marriage is a decision better left up to the states. Although avoiding the specific words, Perry implied that he would oppose (or at least not support) a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
For a man who portrays himself as a staunch social conservative, Perry sure gave a tersely-worded quote on the issue at an event in Aspen, Colorado:
Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me...That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.
Perry's remarks came at an inopportune time. The Obama administration decided earlier this year to scuttle legal efforts to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that respects states' rights by ensuring that one state's recognition of same-sex marriage will not be forced on another. Without DOMA, a litigation nightmare would ensue. Just imagine all the same-sex couples who would move to traditional-marriage states and file suit.
The development is symptomatic of liberals' rising comfort level with imposing same-sex marriage nationwide. If elected president, would Perry raise a finger to stop it? Perry's 10th Amendment sensibilities are refreshing in an age of federal-government overreach. But for my money, Michele Bachmann articulated the better answer on the same-sex marriage question.
She told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that she respects states' freedom to decide the issue, whether for or against same-sex marriage, but she also supports the right of Congress to pass a federal amendment. Wallace saw the two as contradictory, but Bachmann disagreed:
That is not inconsistent, because the states have the right under the 10th Amendment to do what they'd like to do. But the federal government also has the right to pass the federal constitutional amendment. It's a high hurdle, as you know.
Supporting a federal amendment does not indicate disregard for states' rights. The hurdle for successful passage of an amendment is high. Widespread support among the states is a prerequisite. Also, the states are intimately involved in the amendment process. After both chambers of Congress approve the amendment by supermajorities, the legislatures of three-fourths of the states must ratify it.
So far, 31 states have amended their state constitutions to protect traditional marriage. Assuming that every one of those state legislatures votes to ratify a federal amendment -- a flawed assumption, in my view, because a state amendment is far different from a federal amendment politically -- the amendment would still need seven more states to reach a required supermajority.
Perry's argument dangerously borders on suggesting that no new constitutional amendments should be ratified, regardless of the issue at hand. He must realize that, in rare instances, it is important to work a solution into our nation's founding federal document.
Indications are that Perry could enter the race in late August. At the very least, he'll need to clarify and expand on his remarks to satisfy the social-conservative wing of the Republican Party. As it stands, his approach will cost him delegates in evangelical-rich states such as Iowa and South Carolina, even if it might boost his chances in the general election. His position on this issue will curry favor with libertarian-minded Republicans -- but there sure aren't enough of them around to nominate Rick Perry.
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