Sunday, January 8, 2012

Quotes from the ABC/WMUR Presidential Debate in New Hampshire

On Saturday, January 7th, ABC News and WMUR hosted a Republican presidential candidate debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Participants in the debate included Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, John Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry, reflecting a GOP presidential race that is slowly thinning out. While the debate probed a range of political issues, including candidate qualifications and foreign policy, it is the candidates' comments on marriage, reproductive issues, and "anti-Christian bigotry" that I will focus on here. 

First, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum indicated their antagonism to Roe v. Wade, which comes as little surprise. "Do I believe that the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes I do," said Romney. Santorum also supported overturning Roe v. Wade, claiming that the Constitution did not enable abortion.
"I am for overturning Roe v. Wade. I do not believe that we have a right in this country in the constitution to take a human life. I don't think our founders envisioned that. I don't think the writing of the Constitution in anywhere enables that."
With regard to state governments and contraception, moderator George Stephanopolous had the following tense exchange with Mitt Romney, which struck me as evasive on Romney's part.
STEPHANOPOLOUS: Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception, or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?

ROMNEY: George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception. I can't imagine the circumstances where a state would want to do so, and if I were a governor of a state or a legislator of a state, I would totally and completely oppose any effort to ban contraception ... Given the fact that there's no state that wants to do so, and I don't know of any candidate that wants to do so, you're asking could it constitutionally be done? We can ask our constitutionalist here. [Gestures to Ron Paul] ...

STEPHANOPOLOUS: ... Do you believe that states have that right or not?

ROMNEY: George, I don't know whether the state has the right to ban contraception. No state wants to. The idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do and asking if they me whether they could do it or not is kind of a silly thing ... Has the Supreme Court decided that states do not have the right to provide contraception?

STEPHANOPOLOUS: Yes they have. In 1965. Griswold v. Connecticut.

ROMNEY: I believe that the law of the land is as spoken by the Supreme Court, and that if we disagree with the Supreme Court, and occasionally I do, then we have a process under the constitution to change that decision.
On the issue of LGBT rights, several candidates had much to say in opposition to same-sex marriage. Romney expressed support for a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying, "My view is, we should have a federal amendment to the constitution defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman." Likewise, Rick Santorum stressed the finality of a federal marriage amendment.
"If the constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman, then marriage is between a man and a woman, and therefore that's what marriage is and would be in this country, and those who are not men and women who are marriage would not be married. That's what the constitution would say."
When asked about same-sex couples who wished to make lifelong commitments, Romney claimed that same-sex couples can have domestic partnerships or contractual agreements, but not marriages. The fact that domestic partnerships and contracts do not provide the same benefits or the same validation by society was not deemed problematic.
"That's a wonderful thing to do, and that there's every right for people in this country to form long-term committed relationships with one another. That doesn't mean that they have to call it marriage, or they have to receive the approval of the state and a marriage license and so forth for that to occur. There can be domestic partnership benefits or a contractual relationship between two people, which would include, as Speaker Gingrich indicated, hospital visitation rights and the like. We can decide what kinds of benefits we might associate with people who forms those kind of relationships state by state, but to say that marriage is something other than the relationship between a man and a woman I think is a mistake. And the reason for that is not that we want to discriminate against people or to suggest that gay couples are not just as loving and can't also raise children well , but it's instead a recognition that for society as a whole, the nation presumably will be better off if children are raised in a setting where there's a male and a female, and there are many cases where that's not possible. Divorce, death, single parents, gay parents, and so forth. But for society to say we want to encourage through the benefits that we associate with marriage people to form partnerships between men and women and then raise children, which we think that will be the ideal setting for them to be raised."
Romney delved deeper into the same-sex marriage debate, arguing that same-sex marriage would allegedly create problems for families, religious freedom, and other social institutions.
"We have to recognize that this decision about what we call marriage has consequence which goes far beyond a loving couple wanting to form a long-term relationship. That they can do within the law now. Calling it marriage creates a whole host of problems for families, for the law, for the practice of religion, for education. Let me say this. Three-thousand years of human history shouldn't be discarded so quickly."
The homophobic assumption, it seems, is that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples, and that allowing same-sex couples to legally marry would somehow damage the social fabric. As much as Romney tried to soften his rhetoric, his opposition to equal rights for LGBT couples still shone through.

Similarly, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested that the "sacrament" of marriage (a term with religious overtones) would be treated "as though it has no basis" if same-sex marriages were permitted. He conflated opposition to same-sex marriage with "protecting and upholding" opposite-sex marriage as the foundation of our society.
"We want to make it possible to have those things that are most intimately human between friend occur. For example, you're in a hospital. If there are visitation hours, should you be allowed to stay? There ought to be ways to designate that. You want to have somebody in your will. There ought to be ways to designate that. But it is a huge jump from being understanding and considerate and concerned, which we should be, to saying we're therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis. The sacrament of marriage was based on a man and a woman, has been for three-thousand years, is at the core of our civilization, and it's something worth protecting and upholding. And I think protecting and upholding that doesn't mean you have to go out and make life miserable for others, but it does mean you make a distinction between a historic sacrament of enormous importance in our civilization, and simply deciding it applies everywhere and it's just a civil right. It's not. It is a part of how we define ourselves, and I think that a marriage between a man and a woman is part of that definition."
Gingrich frowned upon the emphasis on same-sex marriage, arguing that Catholic institutions have suffered "secular bigotry" and "anti-Christian" bias that the media ignores. The insinuation was that Christian groups have been victimized in the struggle over LGBT rights.
"You don't hear the opposite question asked. Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won't accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won't give into secular bigotry? Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration? The bigotry question goes both ways, and there's a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern on the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media."
In short, the January 7th debate served as a reminder that opposition to abortion and LGBT equality remains a strong element in many GOP presidential candidates' platforms.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Truth Wins Out: TWO Expresses Revulsion Over Extremist Anti-Gay Positions Expressed By GOP Candidates at Debate

Religion Dispatches: The GOP's Race to the Dark Ages

Washington Post: Fact checking the ABC News and ‘Meet the Press' debates


  1. Where did this magic 3000 year number for marriage come from? Even Biblically, Young-Earth-Creationist speaking, it's older than that.

    It is almost unbelievable how short-sighted they are. "Oh, if only we could define marriage, then it would become a sacred, cherished institution which pumps out children and is never terminated by divorce." They are fighting over an eggshell.

    Marriage, as a "core institution" in our society, is somewhat in trouble, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the partners. If they spoke about programs to better prepare couples for marriage and new education initiatives to build stronger drives of commitment and responsibility, I could drum up a little respect for them. Instead, they're off chasing the red herring.

    If this is the best of the best of the Republican party, they are in pretty sad shape.

    Any clues to the reasons, Ahab? Any guesses as to why they can't tell that they are only hurting themselves, bucking the trend of the public?

  2. I watched most of that debate. That anyone takes the GOP candidates of 2012 seriously (with the possible exception of Huntsman) will leave me scratching my head for many years to come.

  3. Sorry...despite his (self-chosen) facade of moderation, Hunstsman is as conservative, if not more, than the rest. The Republican Party is lost.

    But then, so is the Republican-Lite (Barely)Party of President Drone Strike-DADA, sop waddayagonna do?

  4. Wise Fool -- They may believe that success lies with appealing to the homophobic far-right that now has a strong presence in the GOP, even if it alienates them from other constituencies. That's my theory.

    Cognitive Dissenter -- It's a circus. Wait -- I take that back. Circuses are entertaining, and this race has been downright scary.

    Brian -- The party does seem to have swung strongly to the right, judging from the candidates who have made it this far.

  5. Right Ahab, the Republican Primary would be entertaining, hilarious even, if it were only fiction.

  6. Every time one of the bigots blathers about "thousands of years of human history" and claims the only form of marriage over that history was one-man and one-woman, they expose their utter ignorance. They need to stop parroting the nonsense they're fed by their RRRW churches and their anti-gay handlers.

    "Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won't accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done?"

    They weren't "forced" to do anything. They chose to stop providing services because they didn't want to follow the law. They think they should be able to keep getting taxpayer money while using their "religious beliefs" to discriminate against certain groups+. of taxpayers. It doesn't work that way, and they try to pretend that's "anti-Christian bigotry". Imagine the fracas if I set up a charity for which I took taxpayer funds, then said I wouldn't provide services to Christians because I found them morally repugnant. The state would be well within its rights to cut off my funding, and the public would be right to protest.

  7. Marriage is a human behavior almost certainly deeply rooted in a genetic instinct to pair bond. If so, it could be as old as our species.

  8. Buffy -- It's disgusting how right-wingers frame themselves as victims in these struggles.

    Donna -- This is a bad dream that I'd like to wake up from.

    Paul -- All the more reason to validate same-sex pair bonding through recognized marriage.


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