GOP prez contender see no marriage, hear no marriage

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore spent last week trying, and failing, to violate Article Six of the US Constitution.

Moore was, however, more successful at reminding us of the last time Alabama picked a fight with the federal government over the issue of marriage (and eventually lost).

Moore, who is positively torn up about the idea of his gay friends getting married, is waging a massive resistance movement against our nation’s higher courts, who have ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But don’t tell that to the frontrunners for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, who for the most part, according to POLITICO, spent the better part of last week pretending Roy Moore didn’t exist.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 2.28.51 PMFor instance, Marco Rubio responded to questions about the case by pleading ignorance, quoted as saying, “The problem is, I just don’t know the details of what arguments they are using” in Alabama before repeating exactly the same argument that Roy Moore is using in Alabama: that marriage is an issue best left to the states.

Ted Cruz, in similar fashion, simply repeated his position that marriage is a states’ rights issue when asked for comment on the Alabama case.

A spokesperson for Rick Perry, who was presumably not wearing the governor’s favorite Brokeback Mountain coat, limited their response to, “This is a matter between the State of Alabama and the courts.”

Bobby Jindal, when pressed by CNN, refused to even use the word “Alabama” when asked about the events unfolding in the state.

And so on.

It should go without saying that the proliferation of the “states’ rights” meme in the conservative movement is a high-speed evolution from its position on marriage in 2006, when Republicans tried to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage nationwide. Of course, that was when nearly 60% of the country opposed marriage equality. Now, nearly 60% of likely voters support it.

So it should come as no surprise that the ruckus Roy Moore is stirring up in Alabama is a ruckus that Republican 2016 contenders would rather just go away. As I’ve written before, the GOP is stuck with their base’s rabid social conservatism, at least for the foreseeable future, even as the rest of the country leaves the graying Get Off My Lawn Caucus behind on issues relating to what other people do in their bedrooms.

So for presidential hopefuls to come down in favor of Moore makes them look like a lunatic on the national level, but if they call Moore the lunatic that he is, they’ve outed themselves as a sane person and disqualified themselves from the GOP nomination.

It’s a pickle, no doubt about it  — a pickle that’s making the GOP candidates sound an awful lot like John Kerry did in 2004 when it came to marriage. In that campaign, Kerry opposed marriage equality but supported state-sanctioned civil unions. In other words, he preferred not to talk about the issue, so he punted to the states.

Not only does this mean we’re winning on this particular issue — that much has been clear for a while — but it also means that we’ve taken one of the GOP’s best cards off the table in 2016: their ability to speak in moral language on a pressing national issue. As Kerry learned the hard way in 2004, the more you sound like a lawyer when speaking to a moral issue, parsing language to avoid conveying an actual belief, the less connected you become with the electorate at large.

No one actually believes that the GOP’s “state’s rights” talk is actually about states’ rights — whether the issue is gay marriage or interracial marriage, the term has always been used as a litigious foil for the underlying belief that “those people” doing the dirty deed is icky. If and when the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality later this year, that contrived argument will look even sillier.

But for now, I’m content to sit back and watch them embody a willfully ignorant amalgam of George Wallace and John Kerry. At this rate, 2012’s primaries might not have anything on this bunch.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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