Supreme Court reignites same-sex marriage as campaign issue before midterms

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now to gay marriage, an issue that's once again roiling Republican politics for the midterm elections and beyond.

    Federal courts have been striking down gay marriage bans right and left, and then, on Monday, the Supreme Court stepped in again. The justices refused to hear appeals from five states that wanted to keep banning same-sex marriage. Six other states are also affected by the court's refusal.

    Competitive Senate races are under way in at least five states where gay marriages are or could soon now be legal, Virginia, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, and in West Virginia, where Republican Shelley Moore Capito is running against Democrat Natalie Tennant for the seat being vacated by Jay Rockefeller.

    She addressed the issue in a debate last night.

    REP. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, (R) West Virginia: My voting record and my personal belief is that marriage is between a man and woman. And I have a long history on that being — dating back from when I was in the West Virginia legislature. But I believe the decision that's been made is basically saying that the states will make their own decisions, and I will abide by what the state of West Virginia decides in this matter.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But a fault line has already developed among Republicans. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who may run for president in 2016, is criticizing the court itself.

    SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) Texas: We shouldn't have unelected judges striking down our marriage laws, trying to impose their public policy notion on the state of Texas and on states where the elected legislatures have made the decision to preserve and protect traditional marriage.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Far from ending the political part of the gay marriage debate, Monday's action seems to have reignited it. Another federal appeals court struck down bans on gay marriage in Idaho and Nevada yesterday.

    But at the court today, Justice Anthony Kennedy immediately granted Idaho's emergency petition to delay action.

    We take a closer look at the political and legal landscape surrounding same-sex marriage with Jonathan Allen, Washington bureau chief for Bloomberg News.

    Jonathan, did the Supreme Court's action force this on to the midterm election agenda?

  • JONATHAN ALLEN, Bloomberg News:

    Absolutely.

    As you showed just a moment ago, it's already something that's being discussed in Senate debates. And within 24 hours of that decision, you had political candidates coming out and talking about it, feeling like they had to. I think the party committees, particularly the Republican Party committees, don't want to talk about this right now, but the candidates are going to have to.

    So, it's moved out of the court system and back into the political arena.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What is the reasoning for Republicans not wanting to talk about it and then, for that matter, Democrats not wanting to talk about it much?

  • JONATHAN ALLEN:

    Well, the big reason for Republicans to not want to talk about it is the American public has shifted on this issue.

    If you look back at Gallup polling back in 2006, 42 percent of Americans approved of same-sex marriage. Now you're talking about 56 percent. There's been a sea change over the last few years. You can see it in the Democratic Party primary in 2008. The major candidates said they were for civil unions or they were domestic partner benefits, but they wouldn't embrace same-sex marriage.

    Now, in 2014, looking at 2016, all of the major Democratic candidates are going to be in favor of same-sex marriage. So you have seen that happen that way, a big shift in public opinion. As far as Republicans go, there's a division in their party between those who want to promote traditional marriage and those who think that this is an issue that has already passed them by.

    We saw Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and former presidential candidate, stand with Ted Cruz basically today and say, look, I want to stand with a party that has guts to fight on this issue. It's not over. And if the Republican Party won't fight on it, he said he's going to become an independent.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, let's talk about another well-known conservative also keeping his eye on 2016. That's the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. He's not saying what Ted Cruz is saying.

  • JONATHAN ALLEN:

    Yes, there are — I mean, there are positions all over the place right now.

    I think this is the problem for the Republican Party. It's very divided. And I think you're going to see some conservatives, some longtime conservatives, take a different position on same-sex marriage if they're running for president in 2016 than has traditionally been the party's message.

    Rob Portman, Ohio conservative in the Senate, is somebody looking at 2016. He was the first Republican in the Senate to endorse same-sex marriage back in 2013, after his son revealed that he was gay to his father, then Senator Portman came out and supported it.

    So I think you're seeing a Republican Party that is really struggling with this issue. I think that Democrats don't want to talk about it at the moment because you have a lot of tough races in swing states where gay marriage is not as approved of as much as it is on the national level. And I think the Democratic Party committees don't want to hurt their candidates in those places by trumpeting this issue.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Jonathan, is there a comparison to be drawn here? It reminds me of what the parties are dealing with on immigration, where they don't necessarily agree, and some would just rather move on to something else.

  • JONATHAN ALLEN:

    Well, I think that's certainly something that you're seeing. Again, I think you're seeing, in the Republican Party, there's division on immigration.

    I think there's a portion of the party that thinks it really has to get into the sort of situation where you are legalizing folks who have already been here. And there's a portion of the party that says, heck no.

    The Democrats have been pretty unified. We saw a pretty overwhelming bipartisan Senate vote for what they call comprehensive immigration reform that does border security and temporary workers and also that legalization process. So, again, I think that's an issue Democrats are pretty comfortable with, and Republicans are having a hard time with, except for Democrats in certain swing states, where that issue isn't helpful to them.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, it was just last session in the Supreme Court where we — they ruled on the Hobby Lobby case. It was a free speech and religious case, and people said, ah, the culture wars are back. Now they ruled on gay marriage — or not to rule on gay marriage, at least for now. And it seems like the culture wars are over, or are we going too fast?

  • JONATHAN ALLEN:

    I think you're going too fast there.

    I think the culture wars are back. What has happened over time is there has been a change. And it used to be the Republicans were able to very effectively use social issues against Democrats as a wedge. They split the Democratic Party.

    I think what you have seen more recently is a pendulum shift, where Democrats have figured out how to become unified on major social issues, whether you're talking about abortion, whether you're talking about same-sex marriage, and use them against a more divided Republican Party.

    And, look, this is part of American politics. Each party is always trying to calibrate, trying to reset itself, to reframe itself a little bit and to find consensus and union. Right now, Republicans don't have it on these major social issues. And I think you are going to continue to hear Democrats talk about those issues.

    I think they really invite and embrace the culture wars now, in a way that they didn't just eight or 10 years ago.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    A lot of calibration between now and November.

    Jonathan Allen of Bloomberg News, thank you.

  • JONATHAN ALLEN:

    My pleasure.

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