Riding a wave of momentum from last week’s 13-hour filibuster, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul appears to be on a one-man quest to remake the Republican Party in his libertarian image. This week, Paul took on the issue of gay marriage, telling reporters at a National Review breakfast that his preferred solution to marriage equality would call for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether.
His remarks, via Slate’s Dave Weigel:
“I am an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historical definition of marriage. That being said, I think contracts between adults — I’m not for limiting contracts between adults. In fact, if there are ways to make the tax code more neutral where it doesn’t mention the word marriage, then we don’t have to redefine what marriage is. We just don’t have marriage in the tax code. If health benefits are a problem, why don’t we not define them by marriage? Why don’t we say, you have another adult who lives in the house, and a kid who lives in the house can be part of family coverage? Then you don’t have to redefine, and have people like myself, and people who live in the Southeastern part of the country, we don’t have to change our definition of what we think marriage is, but we allow contracts to occur so there is more ability to [make] the law neutral.”
Obviously, the idea that federal government would simply stop recognising marriages is far-fetched, with virtually no chance of ever being realised. In reality, marriage is a state-chartered institution. Paul’s chief of staff Doug Stafford confirmed Wednesday that the Senator believes marriage is “is largely a state issue,” and that he supports gay marriage bans at the state level including in his home state of Kentucky.
“He doesn’t want the federal government regulating his guns or his marriage,” Stafford told Business Insider. “The people of Kentucky overwhelmingly defined marriage as between a man and a woman and he supports that decision and right to do so.”
By deflecting the gay marriage question onto the states, Paul is conveniently able to oppose gay marriage while also taking it off the table as a legislative issue. As Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin notes, this provides a convenient “Get Out Of Jail Free” card to Republicans, who are caught between their party’s conservative base and the broader American electorate, which is increasingly in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Conservative leaders we spoke to were surprisingly cool about Paul’s gay marriage position — provided that the Kentucky Republican continues to support state bans on same-sex unions.
“I am frankly more interested in what Rand will do if the Supreme Court attempts to circumvent 31 state constitutions on the issue of marriage this summer, including his home state of Kentucky,” said Iowa conservative talk radio host Steve Deace, referring to the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on California’s Proposition 8. “I would think someone who cares so deeply for states’ rights, separation of powers, and the Constitution would be very uncomfortable with nine judges who fancy themselves a perpetual unelected constitutional convention, and would have a lot of problems with judicial oligarchy.”
As Deace’s remarks suggest, the Prop. 8 decision presents a potential snag in Paul’s states’ rights dodge, which could force Paul and other Republicans to deal with the gay marriage issue head on. Should the Supreme Court overturn California’s gay marriage ban this summer, the big question will be how forcefully Paul and other Republicans come out to oppose the ruling.
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