Some of the loudest applause during the debate at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland last night came when Ohio Gov. John Kasich was asked how he would explain his opposition to same-sex marriage to a gay son or daughter.
He decided to fold altogether. He responded that the Supreme Court had ruled on the matter, and he will accept it. He continued that he would "love and accept" a gay child "because that's what we're taught when we have faith." His support for backing off gay marriage opposition got him huge cheers in an audience specifically there to watch Republicans debate over who would make the best president.
There was very little said about gay and lesbian issues during the debates last night. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, of course, got in his outrage at the Supreme Court ruling during the earlier debate, comparing it to the Dred Scott decision in insisting that the fight was not over. But for the 10 candidates with the best polling numbers, it pretty much appears to be over. Sen. Rand Paul repeated his talking point that he didn't want to register either his marriage or his gun in Washington and reassured a woman who asked a question via Facebook that he wanted to make sure people's religious freedoms to speak out and act in opposition to gay marriage weren't trampled on. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee ranted about allowing transgender troops to serve in the military, saying that the "purpose of the military is to kill people and break things," as though those are two tasks transgender people are unable to perform.
Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Scott Walker (and some other candidates) have strongly supported constitutional amendments to overrule the Supreme Court and allow individual states to decide whether to recognize same-sex marriages. Cruz was even willing to take the lead in introducing a resolution. But when presented opportunities to talk about marriage, it didn't come up. Why is that?
Blame (or credit—depending how you feel about it) Planned Parenthood. Given a priority list of social issue/culture war battlefields, abortion now trumps gay issues. The controversies over how Planned Parenthood treats fetal tissue and whether it's breaking the law has put the abortion debate back front and center for now, and when questions included references to both marriage and abortion, candidates zoomed in on abortion. Candidates talked about defunding Planned Parenthood. Cruz even promised to send the Department of Justice after them.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that Cruz, Walker, Huckabee, or anybody else has softened on gay marriage. But given the number of issues to discuss and the number of candidates in the field, there needed to be a limit of culture war battles to wage, and clearly everybody decided abortion was the way to go. There are actually policies to debate (whether to fund Planned Parenthood) that indicate what these candidates might do as president. A constitutional amendment on gay marriage recognition is simply not going to happen. I suspect the religious freedom question Paul tackled will come up again (there are 11 more GOP debates!) because it represents an unresolved policy matter. Gay marriage itself, not so much.