GOP Candidates Debate Gay Marriage in NH

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Sunday January 8, 2012

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Republican presidential candidates engaged in a lengthy debate over marriage for same-sex couples during the latest GOP presidential debate at St. Anselm's College on Jan. 7.

ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer read a question from a Virginia man about what sort of relationship recognition outside of marriage the candidates would support.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said gays and lesbians should be able to visit their partners in the hospital and allow them to list them as their beneficiaries in their will.

"We want to make it possible to have those things that are most intimately human between friends occur," said Gingrich, who quickly said marriage equality for same-sex couples is a different matter. "It is a huge jump from being understanding and considerate and concerned, which we should be, to saying we therefore are going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman agreed with Gingrich, but Huntsman went as far to endorse civil unions for gays and lesbians.

"Personally I think civil unions are fair," he said. "I support them. It brings a level of dignity to relationships."

Romney, Perry and Santorum said they back a federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. WMUR Political Director Josh McElveen pressed Santorum on the fact that the Federal Marriage Amendment would invalidate the marriages of 1,800 same-sex couples who have taken advantage of New Hampshire's marriage equality law since it took effect in Jan. 2010.

"If the constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman, marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "That's what marriage is - and would be in this country. And those who are not men and women who are married are-would not be married. That's what the Constitution would say."

Santorum Faces Criticism Over Opposition to Marriage Equality

Santorum's remarks come after he faced sustained criticism over his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples on the campaign trail.

A group of students at New England College in Henniker repeatedly challenged the social conservative on the issue during a town hall meeting on Jan. 5. A man further peppered Santorum on the issue during a campaign stop in Nashua the following day.

A poll that WMUR and the University of New Hampshire released before the debate found that only eight percent of likely Republican primary voters support Santorum, compared to 44 percent who back frontrunner former Romney and 20 percent who support Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

State lawmakers are poised to vote on a bill later this month that would repeal New Hampshire's marriage equality law that took effect in Jan. 2010.

Romney and Perry have both endorsed the repeal measure on campaign trail, while Huntsman told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last fall that he supports the federal Defense of Marriage Act. A volunteer with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign, however, told EDGE late last month that GOP presidential candidates should not get involved with New Hampshire's marriage equality debate.

Santorum further responded to criticisms over his opposition to marriage equality after the debate.

"Obviously folks disagree," he told EDGE, noting what he described as the respectful discourse he has had with New Hampshire voters on the issue. "You can disagree with people, but you're respectful and listen to the other side and you flesh out the issue and I'm doing that on a lot of issues."

Romney Pressed on Pro-Gay Statements

Romney faced a questions about pro-LGBT statements he made to Bay Windows during his 1994 U.S. Senate campaign against late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy during a second debate in Concord on Jan. 8.

He pointed out to WHDH Political Editor Andy Hiller that a member of his cabinet was gay.

"I don't discriminate," said Romney, noting he said he never backed marriage for same-sex couples. "I said to the gay community, I oppose same-sex marriage."

Hiller asked Santorum the same question, and how he would react if his son were to come out.

"I would love him just as much as I did the second before he did," said Santorum.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese responded to Santorum and Romney's responses in a statement released after the Concord debate.

"Governor Romney and Sen. Santorum today provided thoughtful and constructive answers to the questions they were asked about gay Americans. If only they had been that thoughtful when they crafted their various policy positions," said Solmonese. "Both candidates say they oppose discrimination yet they're also opposed to laws that would be make it illegal to fire LGBT people. Both candidates profess inclusion yet they also want to deny patriotic Americans the right to defend their country. You can't say one thing simply because it sounds good but yet continue to act in a manner that is completely at odds with that rhetoric."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.