2016 Candidates Are Still Evolving on Gay Marriage

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Hillary Clinton in Norwalk, Iowa on April 15, 2015. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Same-sex marriage is a pretty hot topic these days, so you’d think anyone who plans to spend the next year and a half being questioned about their political beliefs would have their position nailed down by now. But keeping with the precedent set by President Obama, it appears those seeking his job intend to keep shifting their stance on the issue. While Hillary Clinton previously said states should decided whether to legalize same-sex marriage, this week her campaign said she hopes the Supreme Court will rule in June that marriage is a constitutional right. None of her potential GOP rivals are pro-marriage equality, but recently some have revealed they’re not as passionately opposed to the recognition of loving same-sex relationships as one might think.

It’s only been two years since Clinton explicitly endorsed gay marriage, and less than one year since she got testy with Terry Gross when the NPR host repeatedly suggested that Clinton privately supported same-sex marriage before she publicly revealed that position. “For me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states,” Clinton said. “And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state-by-state and in fact that is what is working.”

Clinton had not addressed the issue since then (aside from featuring gay couples in her announcement video), but on Wednesday her campaign responded to a question from BuzzFeed about whether states have the right to ban same-sex couples from marrying. “Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod.

Signaling that he’s made a decision on entering the Democratic primary, a few hours later former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley posted a short video in which he suggested Clinton’s only fully embracing marriage equality because it’s politically convenient.

As governor, O’Malley signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and he made a more direct jab at Clinton before a speech at Harvard University on Thursday. “I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” O’Malley told the Guardian. “I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls.” (He was referring to both Clinton’s shift on gay marriage, and her newly announced support for providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.) “Leadership is about making the right decision, and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular,” O’Malley added.

As the Democrats begin squabbling over who fully embraced marriage equality first, Republican candidates are trying to find a way to maintain their opposition to same-sex marriage without looking heartless. While last month Senator Rand Paul appeared to be moving right on the issue when he lamented that there’s a “moral crisis that allows people to think there would be some other sort of marriage,” aside from traditional marriage, on Sunday he said he’d be open to something that sounds a lot like some other sort of marriage.

Paul told CNN’s Dana Bash that while he believes in “the traditional religious connotation” of marriage, “I also believe people ought to be treated fairly under the law.” He said he’d be okay with same-sex couples having a contract with no religious connotation. “You probably could have both,” he said. “You could have both traditional marriage, which I believe in. And then you could also have the neutrality of the law that allows people to have contracts with another.”

Republicans are also facing a new question meant to gauge the depth of their opposition to condoning homosexuality: Would you attend the gay wedding of a close friend or family member? Surprisingly, Marco Rubio — who The Advocate said was possibly “the most anti-gay presidential candidate yet” — said he definitely would. “If it’s somebody in my life that I care for, of course I would,” Rubio told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos on Wednesday, noting that while his Catholic faith also teaches that divorce is wrong, he still attends second marriages.

I’m not going to hurt them simply because I disagree with a choice they’ve made or because I disagree with a decision they’ve made, or whatever it may be,” Rubio added. “Ultimately, if someone that you care for and is part of your family has decided to move in one direction or another or feels that way because of who they love, you respect that because you love them.”

However, any gay people planning to invite GOP presidential candidates to their wedding should know that the others might not be as accepting. When conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt posed the same question to Rick Santorum, he said that while he would still “love them and support” a gay relative, he would not attend their wedding because “that would be something that would be a violation of my faith.”

Senator Ted Cruz dodged the question. “I haven’t faced that circumstance. I have not had a loved one go to a, have a gay wedding,” he told Hewitt. When Cruz finally does get invited to a loved one’s same-sex wedding, he’s going to have a lot of evolving to do.