Notwithstanding the prayer gatherings, Texas Governor Rick Perry has staked out what can be described as a moderate position on the issue of same-sex marriage, saying it should be left up to the states.
“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,” he said to applause from several hundred GOP donors in Aspen, Colo. “That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
This is somewhat surprising given that Perry's prayer event is being held by the American Family Association, one of the most anti-gay groups in the country, considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
If Perry gets into the race, this kind of positioning could blunt the growing distaste for anti-gay discrimination among American voters. In a general election, it could make him more palatable to those with conservative views who aren't willing to countenance anti-gay bigotry. One could argue that, although President Barack Obama's position on same-sex marriage is "evolving," that absent the Tenth Amendment argument, Obama's stated position on marriage equality is only somewhat to the left of Perry's. In the aftermath of the passage of New York's marriage-equality law, Obama said that "each community is going to be different, and each state's going to be different."
There are, though, hints that Obama's views actually go much further, given his statement that "I think what you're seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they've got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out." Obama also has a record of slow but certain progress on LGBT rights, from repealing DADT to expanding federal benefits for executive-branch employees to include same-sex couples.
Perry, on the other hand, has a history of gay-baiting rhetoric. His federalism seems like moderation only at first glance. At a campaign rally in 2010, Perry declared, "Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?"
While Obama's administration has called the Defense of Marriage Act's ban against the federal government's recognition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Perry signed a state-level DOMA. This is consistent with his federalist views that the states are entitled to discriminate or not as they see fit, but since DOMA has a profound impact on same-sex partners even with some states recognizing same-sex marriages, one wonders whether he would support DOMA as president. Perry also supports Texas' anti-sodomy law, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. Perry also appears to oppose anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians -- Perry defended the Boy Scouts for excluding gay scoutmasters in his 2008 book because "precious few parents enroll their boys in the Scouts to get a crash course in sexual orientation." A 2009 GOP Primary robocall complained that the president had signed a hate-crimes bill making "homosexuality a protected class." Ironic, considering Perry signed a similar bill ten years ago.
Perry's federalism on same-sex marriage is notable -- but up against the rest of his record on LGBT rights, it doesn't make him much of a moderate.