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Is Rand Paul Trying to Have It Both Ways on Gay Marriage? Probably Not.

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"Not a federal matter" somehow becomes "supports constitutional amendment"
Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

You may have possibly heard this morning that The New York Times Magazine this weekend is exploring whether our "libertarian moment" has arrived. Besides visiting Reason in D.C., writer Robert Draper interviewed libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), among others. An analysis from Paul of the rocky current relationship between the Republican Party and the realities of Americans' shifts of opinion on same-sex marriage has gotten some attention. Here's what Paul said in the interview:

"The party can't become the opposite of what it is," he told me. "If you tell people from Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia, 'You know what, guys, we've been wrong, and we're gonna be the pro-gay-marriage party,' they're either gonna stay home or — I mean, many of these people joined the Republican Party because of these social issues. So I don't think we can completely flip. But can we become, to use the overused term, a bigger tent? I think we can and can agree to disagree on a lot of these issues. I think the party will evolve. It'll either continue to lose, or it'll become a bigger place where there's a mixture of opinions."

The folks over at the gay activist group Human Rights Campaign have jumped on these comments and think this means a flip-flop from Paul over comments Paul said earlier this week in Iowa while preparing for what is obviously going to be a run for the president. Here's how CNN described Paul talking about marriage at a breakfast event in Urbandale, Iowa:

Asked whether he would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday he supports the idea of traditional marriage but thinks Washington shouldn't be involved in the issue.

"I'm in favor of the concept," the Kentucky Republican told an audience in Iowa. "I am in favor of traditional marriage, and I think that's been the foundation for civilization for thousands of years."

"And the loss of the idea of marriage is probably the leading cause of poverty in our country, in the sense that if you kids before you're married, your chance of being in poverty is three of four times that of anyone else," he continued.

Emphasis on the word "concept" added. It seems pretty obvious to me that he is talking about the "concept" of traditional marriage, not the concept of a constitutional amendment. In fact, he states very clearly that he takes the libertarian position against having the federal government license marriages period. He said, "I don't want to register my guns in Washington or my marriage. That may not please everybody but historically our founding fathers didn't register their marriage in Washington. They registered it locally at the courthouse. I'd rather see it be a local issue, not a federal issue."

But somehow, the Human Rights Campaign has decided that Paul nevertheless supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage despite everything else he says and is now trying to attack him as a flip-flopper. They put out a press release today in response to the Times story on libertarians titled "Rand Paul on Marriage Equality: ¯\_(?)_/¯," incorrectly stating that Paul has declared his support for the "concept" of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage recognition. Vice President for Communications Fred Sainz memorializes some poor reading comprehension skills in print:

"I can't decide whether to be disturbed or pleased, so I've settled on confused. I just hope that when the libertarian from Kentucky heads to Iowa and New Hampshire, he doesn't leave his love of liberty at home. The Republican Party must move forward on this issue. The clock is ticking, three marriage cases have already reached the Supreme Court, and there is no doubt that this issue will cause the GOP enormous pain in 2016 if they don't engage in a meaningful way, and fast."

Accidental misunderstanding or deliberate mischaracterization? There's obviously no way a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is going to be on the table and obviously Paul realizes it. Perhaps it's just another sign that more people are realizing Paul as a presidential frontrunner and sharpening the knives.

Below, Paul makes some similar comments in a recent interview with Reason TV while at a tech conference in San Francisco:

A REMINDER UPDATE: As late as 2013, Paul was arguing that federalism (letting the states decide) is a way to hold back the advance of gay marriage recognition. It's still not an indication of support for a constitutional amendment, though