Last week we saw three potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates address some aspect of gay rights.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave voice to views that pols on the right with national ambitions no longer commonly articulate. He declared at the Commonwealth of California Club: “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that — and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.” He also reaffirmed his 10th Amendment approach to gay marriage. (CNN reported: “Spokeswoman Lucy Nashed underscored the governor’s belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. ‘He has been clear on his position that each state has the right to define marriage to reflect the views of its citizens,’ she said.”)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker didn’t discuss his views on homosexuality and took an even more hands-off stance when it came to gay marriage: It doesn’t matter what he thinks since this is being decided by states. Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage has been struck down by a federal court. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
As Milwaukee County executive, he opposed efforts to provide health care benefits to the gay partners of county employees. He also spoke out in favor of a 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
In 2010, he campaigned for governor as a supporter of traditional marriage. He also opposed a law that allowed gay couples to register with counties to get certain benefits, such as hospital visitation rights. . . . [But during] a 12-minute news conference at a muddy and messy groundbreaking event in Oak Creek, the first-term Republican governor argued that his position on same-sex marriage is no longer relevant.
“It really doesn’t matter what I think now,” Walker said at one point. “It’s in the [state] constitution.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman but wanted to allow the voters, not the state legislature, to decide the issue. Christie took issue last week with Perry appearing to compare alcoholism with homosexuality: “I disagree … I don’t believe that’s an apt analogy, one that should be made, because I think it’s wrong.” He added, “You know, every governor and public official has to speak for themselves on these issues. I just spoke for myself.”
What is noteworthy about all three is that they all agreed in essence that gay marriage is no longer a federal issue. That’s both smart politics — a way to avoid offending either traditional-marriage supporters or a general electorate that increasingly sees gay marriage as a constitutional right — and legal reality. The Supreme Court booted the issue back to the states, where it will remain for the indefinite future. The movement toward wider acceptance of gay marriage is, at this point, irreversible. Since the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, there won’t be federal legislation on the subject and the potential for a constitutional amendment has evaporated.
While perhaps a little too terse, Walker had it right on marriage. His personal and/or religious views are entirely irrelevant. The issue is barely relevant to a gubernatorial election and even less relevant to national elections (unless it matters, as it does to liberals, whether one was a leader or a follower on this civil rights issue and whether opposition was a matter of faith or political convenience).
Not everything is a political issue, nor one on which politicians have any particular insight. Candidates are not asked their views on divorce, for example. Each state has laws on the topic, and one’s religious views aren’t a topic for public debate. It is not (and shouldn’t be) asked of nor answered by politicians
Indeed, long ago politicians should have drawn the line on discussing a great many topics. Creationism? Unless you are running for school board and intend to be guided by your religious convictions, it does not matter. Born again? None of my business.
In our Oprah-ized world it certainly is not fashionable for politicians to hold anything back. When Bill Clinton answered the “boxers or briefs” question, we passed the point at which people felt any inhibition about asking personal questions. And unfortunately pols seemed to believe it was no longer their right to tell interviewers something was none of their business.
But we have reached a point when questions about creationism, gay marriage, the nature of homosexuality and other value-specific questions serve no purpose other than to provide targets for faux outrage. These questions are designed to divide the population into believers and nonbelievers, between those who share the same cultural touchstones and those who differ.
If a topic has no relevance to public policy or character or fitness to serve, why ask the question and why answer it? We aren’t electing pastors, family counselors or philosophers; we’re electing politicians whose job description and qualifications don’t include a great many topics. If we are heading for a more tolerant society, we have to agree to disagree on some issues and to respect some realm of private opinion and faith.
For Republicans running in 2016, I would suggest a simple response to the sort of question intended to provoke divisiveness over irrelevant topics: “I can’t think of a single instance in which [creationism/the origin of homosexuality] would be relevant. I’m not here to sow division or take sides in faith-based debates. Let’s talk about something germane to the presidency.” Some people playing the gotcha game (the media, principally) aren’t going to like it. But a great many voters are sick of identity politics and intolerance for anyone who doesn’t share one’s view of the mysteries of the universe and the human soul, and they will respect the answer. By steering clear of many irrelevant topics, we might actually raise the level of debate on topics that demand our attention.