Gay Marriage

Is Rand Paul Really Worried About Inter-Species Marriage?

No, but his party sure seems to be. And that's a problem even for those of us who aren't Republicans.

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In the wake of yesterday's rulings on same-sex marriage, conservatives and Republicans are mostly grumpy, if not apoplectic.

Then there's Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican, who took to the Facebook page where he concisely explains all his votes and positions.

A lawyer by training, he eloquently stated,

Marriage is a private institution that government should not define. To me and millions of Americans, marriage is also a religious sacrament that needs no government approval. As a conservative, I will continue to push for less government interference in our personal and economic affairs.

Among Republicans, Amash was pretty lonely in his limited-government sentiments (which are properly understood as libertarian, not conservative).

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), a Baptist minister and recidivist presidential candidate quoted the Bible via Twitter on hearing the news ("Jesus wept.").

Retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) declared that "No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted" before getting effectively jerk-stored by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). When asked about Bachmann's reaction, Pelosi responded, "Who cares?" When you get smoked by Nancy Pelosi, it really is time to hang it up.

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer took to Twitter with a passion that eliminated all nuance or sense of perspective. Yes, he even invokes Hitler and the Jews:

HItler: Jews are "enemies of the human race." Scalia: majority has made supporters of marriage "enemies of the human race."

(Somehow I'm betting that Fischer is going to skip that touring production of Bent.)

So what about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the "libertarian Republican" (his term) who is a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 and the clear leader of the ascendant libertarian wing of the Republican Party?

Earlier this year, he told a rapt audience at CPAC that "The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere." A few weeks ago in a Twitter chat, he told Reason readers that "states should be able to craft their own drug or marriage policies, instead of the federal government."

Yet in an appearance yesterday on Glenn Beck's radio show, there was this exchange between Beck and the senator. For context, it's worth noting that Beck went out of his way to say that he is not against state recognition of same-sex marriages. He's just asking questions…:

"Who are you to say, if I'm a devout Muslim and I come over here and I have three wives, who are you to say if I'm an American citizen, that I can't have multiple marriages," Beck added.

"And I think this is a conundrum," Paul said. "If we have no laws on this, people take it to one extension further – does it have to be humans? You know?"

"The question is what social mores – can some social mores be part of legislation?" Paul asked philosophically.

Read more or listen here.

Later in the day, he appeared on Fox News and walked back his earlier comments. Via Mediaite, here's a writeup and the video clip

"I think this is a conundrum. If we have no laws on this, people take it to one extension further – does it have to be humans? You know?"

"I think my point that I was trying to make is that government has been involved in marriage for a while and it's been at the state level," Paul told [Fox host Megyn] Kelly. "I think if we leave it at the state level, there will be room to disagree." He clarified, "I don't think it will be with multiple humans and I think it will be human and human."

"I don't think we're going on towards polygamy or things beyond that," Paul continued, "but I do think that our country is divided on the issue and that in some ways, the Supreme Court decision is probably going to allow us to agree to disagree." He predicted that while some states like New York may move forward with gay marriage in the short term, others in the south will not for the "foreseeable future."

In comments to USA Today, Paul emphasized the decentralized approach—and his opposition to gay marriage:

"The good side to this ruling is that they have affirmed to states that this is a state issue and states can decide," he said, offering this message to people who oppose recognition of gay marriage: "The battle is going to be lost at the federal level. Concentrate on your state."

To ABC News, he praised Justice Anthony Kennedy for avoiding "a cultural war."

"As a country we can agree to disagree," Paul said today, stopping for a moment to talk as he walked through the Capitol. "As a Republican Party, that's kind of where we are as well. The party is going to have to agree to disagree on some of these issues."

The comments from Paul, a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016, highlight how the party's field could divide over  gay marriage. Many Republicans have been unusually muted in their reactions to the Supreme Court rulings today.

Paul said he agreed with Kennedy, whom he called "someone who doesn't just want to be in front of opinion but wants government to keep up with opinion." He said Kennedy "tried to strike a balance."

There's no reason to doubt Paul's commitment to pushing the definition of marriage down to the state level. To be sure, it's not clear that the states are the appropriate place to make this particular decision. Apart from technical questions about how, for instance, states with differing definitions of marriage would adjudicate competing claims, if a right is central to human flourishing, then it need be respected at all levels of government, especially the federal one.

But let's skip that question, on which lots of people can disagree, for the moment. Rand Paul's immediate reaction flies in the face of what I, following Forbes' James Poulos, called the Kentuckian's "Hipster Outreach Mofo Party Plan," which smartly focuses on lifestyle diversity not just as a given in any political movement but a strength:

"We need to be like the rest of America," Paul told the gathering. "We need to grow bigger. If you want to be the party of white people, we're winning all the white vote."

"But we're a diverse nation," he said, to a crowd that was almost entirely white. "We're going to win when we look like America. We need to be white, we need to be brown, we need to be black, we need to with tattoos, without tattoos, with pony tails, without pony tails, with beards, without."

The Republican Party also needs (openly) gay members—and, as important, voters who might well agree with most or all of the party's rhetoric about smaller government but are put off by what they rightly see as revanchist attitudes toward alternative lifestyles. There's a palpable—and largely correct—feeling that many leading conservatives and Republicans would love not simply to scotch all this talk of marriage equality but any "normalizing" of homosexuality or lesbianism as a sexual preference. Cue Huckabee, Bachmann, the American Family Association.

That backward-looking feeling gets in the way of the central political message that Rand Paul and other libertarian-leaning conservatives and Republicans are selling as the best way forward not just for the GOP but the country. A majority of Americans think that same-sex marriages should have the same legal status as man-woman couplings and, as the College Republican National Committee's recent report stressed, younger voters see attitudes toward same-sex marriage as a "deal-breaker." That is, Millennials are less likely to vote for a candidate they agree with on most issues if he or she is against marriage equality. From a strictly tactical perspective, if the GOP wants to be the anti-gay-marriage party, it will diminish its future prospects.

More than any other politician on the national scene, Rand Paul has consistently argued for limiting the size, scope, and spending of government during his short time in office. No one, including such a civil libertarian stalwart as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), has been more effective in pushing for constitutional limits on state power used at home or abroad in the name of the "War on Terror." The reason Paul is the leader of the rising libertarians in Congress—and drawing sad-sack attacks from scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and writers at National Review—is precisely because he is holding the conservative movement to its stated rhetoric of minimizing goverment across the board. Most Republican get the vapors the minute that cuts in defense spending or old-age entitlement reform are broached. Not Paul.

It's good that he clarified his position during the course of the day, but Paul's immediate reaction to the Supreme Court ruling is at odds with his expansive view of a party that needs "to be like the rest of America." In an age of prolonged recession caused by government interference in the economy, of prolonged overseas wars caused by government recklessness in both articulating and prosecuting foreign policy, and of prolonged deficits caused by an inability to reel in the size, scope, and spending of government at all levels, Rand Paul has the right message and the right solutions. Trepidation about gay marriage, or pot legalization (another issue that has majority support), or other social issues just shouldn't figure into his discussions about paring back the state.

For the past decade, a majority of Americans agree that "the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses." That same majority thinks that marriage equality is OK. The first national politician who seriously and credibly fuses those two sentiments into a coherent platform will transform America—and in a good way.