How to Support Gay Marriage as a Massachusetts Republican

Being pro-gay marriage without being too pro-gay marriage can be hard.


When you’re courting Republican primary voters in a state that largely supports gay marriage, it can be hard to position yourself as pro-gay marriage without seeming, well too pro-gay marriage? The three Republican Senate candidates offered three different strategies on how to approach it in their Wednesday evening debate.

The marriage issue is a hot topic as the Supreme Court hears arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop. 8 and. As Blue Mass Group documented, the debate moderator asked the candidates two questions on marriage: first, if they believe the federal Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional. And second, if they believe states have the right to maintain laws that prohibit same-sex marriages.

Michael Sullivan said of DOMA:

I’m in support of the repeal of DOMA regardless of whether or not it’s constitutional. I think people in Massachusetts that are recognized as married couples should all be afforded the exact same benefits.

That’s a bit of a dodge on the Constitutional question, but hey, we’re not electing him to the Supreme Court. He’s made clear how he’d vote on a repeal, and that he’d base his vote not on human rights but on states’ rights. And actually, he keeps that consistent when he discusses Proposition 8, where the Supreme Court has the option to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in every state:

I start from the premise that marriage is best defined by the state, for my federalist principles.

He’s basically articulated that he doesn’t think there’s any inherent right at stake here, just an issue of jurisdiction. Massachusetts lets gay people get married, and hey, good for them. California doesn’t, and hey, good for them.

Gabriel Gomez is the most confusing of the three. On DOMA, he says:

 I’m a firm believer in the 10th Amendment. I’m against any kind of discrimination as well. I think that if two people are in love, they should be able to get married, irrespective. I support repealing DOMA.

Okay, so then he probably also believes that states don’t have the right to restrict marriage? Wrong!

You know, the people of California spoke. And while I don’t agree with what they did, you need to respect what the states decide on a state-by-state issue.

So in fact, he’s personally against discrimination, but supports the state’s right to discriminate. He’s just hopeful that in the future, they won’t.

Winslow was more consistent in his two answers. On DOMA, he said:

I support the repeal of DOMA, and I believe in the equality of marriage for all people in Massachusetts and the country.

Thus, when it comes to the case on Prop. 8, he says:

I think that if one of is not equal than none of us is equal. That we have to work to make all of us free and equal throughout American society regardless of who you are or who you love … I would work to make sure that those principles were followed throughout my time in the Senate.

He tries to talk around it a little, but it sounds as if he thinks states do not have the right to prevent same-sex couples from getting married. If there’s a spectrum of ways one can support gay marriage, he and Sullivan are on opposite ends with Gomez occupying a muddled middle ground.

Sullivan’s position is probably the most shrewd. He recognizes he’ll have to run in a general election if he wins his primary, and gay marriage isn’t really up for debate here. But there are social conservatives in Massachusetts, believe it or not, and they vote in Republican primaries. The “I support gay marriage because of federalism” argument is the one that lets him remain socially conservative without actually taking a policy position that’s unpalatable to the general electorate. It’s a kind of like pleading the fifth on where you stand on the morality of gay marriage in the model of,  “Whatever my personal feelings, I believe Roe v. Wade is settled law.”

One way to tell that this is a safe stand, other than the fact that Sullivan is polling ahead of his peers, is that it seems to be the one the Supreme Court is most likely to take. Based on the questions the judges asked in this week’s hearings, a lot of court-watchers predicted that they’d reject DOMA as a federal overreach and take one of several ways to escape having to rule on nationwide gay marriage while it remains controversial.

Even so, Sullivan (and the Court) probably leave people passionate about the marriage issue—both for and against it—a little uninspired. Winslow seems to be the only one playing decidedly to one group or the other. Gabriel “Federalism But Also Basic Rights”  Gomez just leaves us a bit confused.