Will Huntsman Defend DOMA?
June 22nd, 2011
Former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has officially announced that he is running for the GOP nomination for President. Coinciding with that announcement were moves to position him as the most gay-friendly of all the major GOP candidates (leaving aside openly gay Fred Karger). Charles T. Moran, a vice chair for the California Log Cabin Republicans and a political consultant for the Huntsman campaign, released a letter touting Huntsman’s support for the LGBT community, adding as Utah’s governor he’s “talked the talk and walked the walk,” and is “unique in his desire to have a fully inclusive campaign.” He added:
On the domestic front, and as it specifically pertains to our greater LGBT community, Governor and Mrs. Huntsman are particularly supportive of our issues. Governor Huntsman signed into law Utah’s first Civil Unions legislation – a politically courageous move on his part given that state’s politics.
In the relative terms of Utah politics, Huntsman was relatively supportive: he supports civil unions (a position confirmed by a campaign spokesman), but he never actually signed a civil unions bill into law. As anyone who has been remotely paying attention, Utah does not have civil unions. What he did do was sign a bill into law that would allow municipalities to offer domestic partner benefits as long as they weren’t called domestic partner benefits. There is a massive difference between getting a family library card and a civil union. Believe me, the only scenario under which civil unions could come to Utah would be if there was a big empty shell where the LDS headquarters used to be.
Yesterday, Huntsman sought to burnish his pro-gay credentials further, by saying that if New York passes marriage equality into law, he “would respect the state’s decision on that.” It’s not clear however what he means by respecting the state’s decision. The Defense of Marriage Act actually prohibits the federal government, including the president, from respecting any state’s decision to provide marriage equality.
President Barack Obama also supports civil unions but not full marriage equality — a position similar to Huntsman’s — but he says his position is “still evolving.” Some of that evolution appears to include the recognition that DOMA is a discriminatory law that was the product of animus toward a minority, making heightened scrutiny the legal standard under which the law’s constitutionality is to be judged. As a result, last February the Justice Department announced that they could not defend the law under heightened scrutiny in Federal Court.
It’s a fair question to ask whether Huntsman’s respect for a state’s decision extends to recognizing that DOMA as a discriminatory law. We don’t know, but early indications suggest that having staked out a ground that is clearly different from the other major GOP candidates, he now recognizes that he first has to get through the GOP primaries:
REPORTER: Governor, you support civil unions for gays and lesbians like the President does. He suggested he’s evolving on that issue. Can you imagine ever being open to legalized gay marriage?
HUNTSMAN: I think redefining marriage is something that would be impossible and it’s something I would not be in favor of. But I believe, just subordinate to marriage we have not done an adequate job in the area of equality and reciprocal beneficiary rights. And I’ve spoken out about that, my support of civil unions. Some people like it, some people don’t. And folks have said, they’ve said people are going to hold it against you in the Republican primaries. I answer that question all the time and I say it is where I am and it is who I am, and people can take it any way they want.
Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, told The Daily Beast, “If you want to vote for a Republican, Huntsman is probably your best option.” In the relative terms of Republican politics, Huntsman’s position is clearly ahead of the others. But there is still plenty of grey areas that he hasn’t addressed — DOMA chief among them, but also anti-discrimination laws and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — that we still need to hear from him on.