Republican presidential candidates stood firm in their opposition to same-sex marriage during a debate Saturday night as Newt Gingrich rebuked the media for what he said was asking the wrong question on the issue.
The former U.S. House speaker said he wanted to “raise a point about the news media bias” and accused the media of not asking about same-sex marriage in terms of what it means for religious groups.
“Should the Catholic Church be forced to closed its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done?” Gingrich said. “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 in key delivery of services because of the bias of the bigotry of the administration?”
Gingrich added, “The bigotry question goes both ways and there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is a concern of the other side, and none of it gets covered by the media.” The audience erupted in applause following Gingrich’s response.
The debate at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, N.H., took place just days before New Hampshire Republican voters go to the polls on Tuesday to decide on their preferred candidate to win the GOP nomination.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he agrees with Gingrich on his position, adding that the events in Massachusetts following the 2003 State Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage were “exactly as Speaker Gingrich indicated.”
“What happened was Catholic charities that placed almost half of all the adoptive children in our state was forced to step out of being able to provide adoptive services,” Romney said. “And the state tried to find other places to help children. We have to recognize that this decision about what we call marriage has consequences, goes far beyond a loving couple who want to form a loving relationship.”
But one LGBT advocate accused Gingrich and Romney of misstating the facts on the Catholic Church abandoning charitable services because the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said via e-mail the church voluntarily withdrew services in Massachusetts and wasn’t forced to do so.
“I was running MassEquality during the Catholic Charities debacle in Massachusetts, and I have to say it is extremely distressing that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich just repeated the lie that the freedom to marry in Massachusetts had ANYTHING to do with Catholic Charities ceasing to perform adoptions,” Solomon said. “That unfortunate result was because the Catholic hierarchy in [Massachusetts] wanted an exemption from civil rights laws.”
Solomon added the local board of Catholic Charities voted unanimously to continue performing adoptions and to comply with civil rights laws, but was overruled by the Catholic hierarchy.
“Romney was governor at the time — he KNOWS it’s not true,” Solomon said.
Gingrich made the comments after a debate moderator, ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, posed a question submitted via email by “Phil” of Virginia asking what candidates want same-sex couples to do if they want legal protections for their families.
“Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed long-term relationships,” the question read. “What is your solution?”
Despite his opposition to marriage equality, Gingrich said he wants 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,” Gingrich said. “There ought to be ways to designate that. You want to have somebody in your will. There ought to ways to designate that.”
Still, Gingrich called it “a huge jump” going being understanding of same-sex couples “to saying we’re, therefore, going to institute of marriage as if 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,” Gingrich said. “And, I think, protecting and upholding that doesn’t mean you have to go out and make life miserable for others, but it does mean you make a distinction between a historic sacrament of enormous importance in our civilization and simply deciding it applies every way and is just a civil right.”
Romney expressed a similar sentiment in favor of relationship recognition while maintaing opposition to same-sex marriage, saying “there can be domestic partner benefits or a contractual relationship” between two people that can include hospital visitation rights.
“There’s every right in this country for people to form long-term committed relationship with one another,” Romney said. “That doesn’t mean that they have to call it marriage.”
Romney added recognizing same-sex marriage is a “mistake,” not because he wants to discriminate against people, but because the country “will be better off if children are raised in a setting where there’s a male and a female.”
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., was distinct among other candidates on state. The candidate stated his position in favor of civil unions, saying they’re “fair” and “there’s such a thing as equality under the law.” Still, he said he doesn’t support same-sex marriage.
“I don’t feel that my relationship is at threatened by civil unions,” Huntsman said. “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 believes it brings a level of dignity to relationships.”
Huntsman added “reciprocal beneficiary rights” should be part of civil unions and said states “should be able to talk about” the marriage issue.
Among the policies changes to which Perry took exception was the Obama administration’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
“That is a war against religion, and it’s going to stop under a Perry administration,” the candidate said, receiving applause from the audience.
In response to a different question, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum revealed a distinction in his position on same-sex marriage, and that on adoption by same-sex couples.
Josh McElveen, a reporter for a local news affiliate WMUR, asked Santorum about adoption by same-sex parents, noting New Hampshire is one of the state where same-sex marriage is legal.
“Are you going to tell someone they belong as a ward of the state or in foster care rather than have two parents who want them?” McElveen asked.
Santorum responded that adoption by gay couples isn’t a federal issue and should be resolved by the states.
“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,” Santorum said.
Contrary to Santorum’s assertion, the Williams Institute has found based on 2010 U.S. Census data that gay couples exist in every state in the country.
But Santorum said his position on adoption by same-sex marriage contrasts with his position on marriage.
“I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue — that we can’t different laws with respect to marriage,” Santorum said. “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.”
In response a follow-up question on what happens to existing same-sex couples if a Federal Marriage Amendment is passed, Santorum invoked his previously stated belief that such marriages would be invalid.
“If the Constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman, then marriage is between a man and a woman,” Santorum said. “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.”
Wayne Besen, executive director of the pro-LGBT group Truth Wins Out, rebuked Santorum in a statement for advocating for the invalidation of existing same-sex marriages and predicted the position would end Santorum’s campaign.
“I think the radical idea of destroying families and invalidating their marriages is so preposterous that it will cost Rick Santorum any chance of ever becoming President of the United States,” Besen said. “Santorum is just too extreme and the cruel position he took on this issue will lead to the unraveling of his campaign.”
Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was the only candidate on stage who didn’t respond to the marriage issue. He’s said government should get out of the marriage business, but he personally believe marriage is between one man, one woman.
The presidential primary comes to New Hampshire as the state is likely to vote this month on repeal of the same-sex marriage, which was signed into law by Gov. John Lynch (D) in 2009. Perry and Romney have expressed support for repeal of the marriage law there. Each of the candidates who support a Federal Marriage Amendment — Romney, Perry, Santorum, and Gingrich — implicitly support repeal of the state law because the federal measure would end same-sex marriages there.