The audience in New Hampshire listening to Saturday night’s debate grew noisily restless with reporters’ questions about the right to privacy as it regards contraception. But when the topic became same-sex marriage, they seemed to be listening more quietly –at least until Newt Gingrich claimed that questions about gay marriage belie the news media’s bias against religions.
A question about same-sex marriage seemed inevitable. The debate took place in New Hampshire –one of only six states with marriage equality. And the most anti-gay candidate among the major GOP hopefuls –Rick Santorum– had been making significant gains in some polls, making him seem a more viable contender than before.
ABC reporter Diane Sawyer started the discussion, asking candidates to imagine they were sitting in their living room talking to a gay couple. And then she read a question sent in to the debate forum via Yahoo.com from a 30-year-old man named Phil in Virginia. The man’s question was this: “Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?”
“What would you say personally sitting in your living rooms to people who ask questions like this?” said Sawyer. She directed the question first to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“I think what I would say is that we want to make it possible to have those things that are most intimately human between friends occur. For example, you’re in a hospital, if there are visitation hours, should you be allowed to stay, there ought to be ways to designate that. You want to have somebody in your will, there ought to be ways to designate that. But it is a huge jump from being understanding and considerate and concerned –which we should be – to saying we’re therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis. The sacrament of marriage was based on a man and a woman; has been for 3,000 years, is at the core of our civilization, and is something worth protecting and upholding. And I think that protecting and upholding that doesn’t mean you have to go out and make life miserable for others, but it does mean you have to make a distinction between a historic sacrament of enormous importance in our civilization and simply deciding it applies everywhere and it’s just a civil right. It’s not. It is a part of how we define ourselves and I think that a marriage between a man and a woman is part of that definition.”
The audience was silent.
Sawyer moved immediately to former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, noting that he had “talked about civil unions.”
“How do you disagree with others on this stage?” asked Sawyer.
“Well, personally, I think civil unions are fair. I support them. I think there’s such a thing as equality under the law,” said Huntsman. “I’m a married man. I’ve been married for 28 years. I have seven kids….and I don’t feel my relationship is at all threatened by civil unions. On marriage, I’m a traditionalist. I think that ought to be saved for one man and one woman. But I believe that civil unions are fair, and I think it brings a level of dignity to relationships. And I believe in reciprocal beneficiary rights. I think they should be part of civil union rights as well.”
Local ABC reporter Josh McElveen then directed the discussion to Rick Santorum, noting that 1,800 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in New Hampshire under that state’s two-year-old law, “and they’re trying to start families, some of them.” Noting that Santorum is for “traditional families,” McElveen asked, “Are you going to tell someone that they belong as a ward of the state or in foster care rather than have two parents who want them?”
“Well, this isn’t a federal issue, it’s a state issue,” said Santorum. “The states can make that determination, and New Hampshire –my feeling is is that this is an issue that –I believe that the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage, we have to have one law. Marriage is, as Newt said, a foundational institution of our country and we have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another. If we’re successful in establishing that, then this issue becomes moot.”
He did not explain how the issue of same-sex couples adopting children becomes moot should same-sex couples be banned from marriage.
“If we don’t have a federal law [banning marriage], I’m certainly not going to have a federal law that bans adoption for gay couples when there are only gay couples in certain states. So, this is a state issue, not a federal issue.”
Again, the audience was quiet. No reaction.
McElveen followed up. What would happen to the marriages of the 1,800 New Hampshire gay couples if a federal ban on same-sex marriage is instituted.
Santorum responded as he has when asked the question in other forums.
“If the constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Santorum, “then marriage is between a man and a woman. And, therefore, that’s what marriage is and would be in this country and those who are not men and women who are married would not be married. That’s what the constitution would say.”
Again, no audience reaction.
Sawyer jumped back in, asking Mitt Romney to explain what he would say in his living room to a gay couple “who would say, ‘We simply want the right to,’ as the person who wrote the e-mail said, ‘we want gay people to form loving, committed, long-term relationships.’ In human terms, what would you say to them?”
“The answer is, ‘That’s a wonderful thing to do, and that there’s every right for people in this country to form long-term committed relationships with one another. That doesn’t mean that they have to call it marriage, or that they have to receive the approval of the state and a marriage license and so forth for that to occur. There can be domestic partnership benefits or contractual relationships between two people, which would include, as Speaker Gingrich indicated, hospital visitation rights and the like. We can decide what kinds of benefits we might associate with people who form those kinds of relationships, state by state. But to say that marriage is other than the relationship between a man and a woman, I think is a mistake. And the reason for that is not that we want to discriminate against people or to suggest that gay couples are not just as loving and can’t also raise children. But it’s instead a recognition that society as whole –the nation will presumably be better off if children are raised in a setting where there’s a male and female. And there are many cases where that’s not possible –divorce, death, single parents, gay parents and so forth. But, for society to say we want to encourage, through the benefits that we associate with marriage, people to form partnerships between men and women and then raise children, which we think that will be the ideal setting for them to be raised.”
The discussion had gone on for about six minutes. Then, Gingrich apparently signaled that he wanted to speak, and Sawyer gave him the floor.
“I just want to say, since we spent this much time on these issues –I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don’t hear the opposite question asked,” said Gingrich. “Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples –which is exactly what the state has done.”
“Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry? Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?
“The bigotry question goes both ways and there is a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern on the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media,” said Gingrich, as the audience began applauding.
“As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right,” said Romney, “and I do, too. And I was in a state where the supreme court stepped in and said marriage is a relationship required under the constitution for people of the same sex to be able to marry. And John Adams, who wrote the constitution, would be surprised. And it did exactly as Speaker Gingrich indicated. What happened was Catholic Charities, that placed almost half all the adopted children in our state, was forced to step out of being able to provide adoptive services. And the state tried to find other places to help children –We have to recognize that this decision about what we call marriage has consequence which goes far beyond a loving couple wanting to form a long-term relationship –that they can do within the law now. Calling it marriage creates a whole host of problems for families, for the law, for the practice of religion, for education. Let me say this, 3,000 years of human history shouldn’t be discarded so quickly.”
Actually, though none of the reporters mentioned this –perhaps because they did not know– the state of Massachusetts did not “forced” the Catholic Church to close its adoption services. The state required that Catholic Charities, if it wished to receive state funding for its provision of adoption services, had to obey the state’s human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Catholic Charities chose to stop receiving state funds, instead.
ABC News host George Stephanoupoulous moved the discussion on to whether the candidates might attempt a third-party run for the White House if they failed to get the nomination. But when Texas Governor Rick Perry was asked, he turned the question back to “gay marriage” and to Gingrich’s applause-garnering claim that it is really religion that’s suffering discrimination.
“I am for a constitutional amendment that says that marriage is between a man and woman, at the federal level,” said Perry. “But this administration’s war on religion is what bothers me greatly. When we see an administration that will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, that gives their Justice Department clear instructions to go take the ministerial exception away from our churches where that’s never happened before, when we see this administration not giving money to Catholic charities for sexually trafficked individuals because they don’t agree with the Catholic Church on abortion –that is a war against religion and it’s going to stop under a Perry administration.”
The audience gave brief applause.