The seven Republican presidential candidates showed some differences on gay-related issues in their first high-profile debate Monday night — with some surprises.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who has actively opposed same-sex marriage, said she would not, as president, attempt to overturn laws in states that allow same-sex couples to marry. But former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania took a hard line, saying he would attempt to overturn individual states laws, arguing that there needs to be “one law in the country with respect of marriage — we need consistency.”
Asked whether, as president, they would try to re-establish the ban on openly gay people in the military, business leader Herman Cain of Georgia said he would not. But former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said he’d takes his cues from combat commanders on the issue.
The gay-related questions took only about five minutes of the two-hour debate, which was staged on the campus of a small college in New Hampshire. It was the first debate in which major contenders for the Republican nomination took part.
The first question, from a reporter with the Union Leader newspaper, asked the candidates if they would, as president, seek to overturn a state law that allows same-sex couples marry. New Hampshire is one of five states that have such laws. The reporter directed the question to Bachmann.
Bachmann said she believe marriage is between a man and a woman but that she supports the 10th Amendment to the federal constitution. The 10th Amendment says powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. She noted that she was raised by a single mother but believes the “best possible way to raise a child is to have a mother and a father.”
“But would you campaign for repeal of the law in New Hampshire?” asked the reporter.
“It is not the role of the president to interfere with their state law,” said Bachmann. The large audience in the studio audience applauded that response.
CNN reporter John King, who served as moderator of the debate, then re-couched the question and posed it to the entire field. He asked them if they consider themselves — on this issue — to be a “George W. Bush Republican” who believes in banning same-sex marriage or a “Dick Cheney Republican” who, at one time, said it should be left to the states.
Businessman Cain said he believes the issue should be left to the states.
But the remaining candidates dodged the question and, instead, expressed their support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage (though none specified that they would support a federal constitutional amendment, a state one, or both).
One exception was U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas who said he would not support a constitutional amendment. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia added that he helped author the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And Bachmann added that, while she “would not be going into states to overturn their legislation,” she does support a constitutional amendment and worked for one while in the Minnesota legislature.
CNN’s King then brought up the recent passage of a measure in Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members.
“If you were president,” asked King, “would you leave the [repeal] policy or try to go back” to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban?
Cain said he “wouldn’t create a distraction by trying to overturn” the law repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But most of the other candidates said they would consider pushing to re-establish the ban. Gingrich and Bachman said they, like Pawlenty, would seek to re-establish the ban if military commanders told them they felt allowing gays as disrupting the military. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said only that the ban should “have been kept.”