Huckabee told Roll Call last week that it may not be “the hot, dominant issue for the next year and a half,” but the conservative groups aiming for national attention are hoping to keep marriage in the headlines.
While the New Hampshire Legislature (under different leadership) previously legalized same-sex marriage, the practice is allowed in Iowa because of an April 2009 state Supreme Court decision.
Vander Plaats recently led efforts to oust the three state Supreme Court justices blamed for the decision, but he concedes full repeal is unlikely. While the Iowa House chamber is now controlled by Republicans, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) has repeatedly vowed to block any effort to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“There is a noisy group of people that wants to change this,” Gronstal told Roll Call. “I think that the minority is growing louder, but I don’t think their numbers are growing.”
He acknowledged that some conservative groups would leverage the influence of the presidential contest to push the cause.
“Both Iowa and New Hampshire get lots of folks that say, ‘Here are two places where it’s our opportunity to influence the national debate.’ We’re fairly used to that here,” he said. “I certainly think there will be some activity in Iowa on that front by various groups.”
Indeed, Gronstal noted that Republican state lawmakers are testing creative ways to block gay couples from marrying. They’re currently debating a bill that would block local officials from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Vander Plaats suggested that Republican Gov. Terry Branstad could address the issue with an executive order. Branstad, who unseated Democratic Gov. Chet Culver last fall, has said he wants voters to be able to decide the marriage issue.
Any legislative action would presumably happen in the coming months, just as presidential candidates push their campaigns into full gear.
The re-emergence of social issues obviously helps some prospective presidential candidates more than others.
There’s Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who titled the first chapter of his new book “The Most Important Form of Government is a Father, a Mother, and Children.”
“The family structure that made this country the most powerful and prosperous in the history of the world — father, mother, children — is under assault today as never before,” he wrote, later adding: “Still, I believe that we’re in denial about potential problems as we see more and more homosexual couples raising families. It will be years before we know whether or not our little guinea pigs turn out to be good at marriage and parenthood.”
And fellow cultural conservative Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator who is among the most aggressive early prospective presidential candidates, said he wasn’t yet aware of the same-sex marriage debate in New Hampshire but welcomed a discussion on the issue.
“Family is vitally important to the future of our country and the stability of our society. I think we have an obligation to talk about it,” he recently told Roll Call.
Santorum drew fire back in 2003 for comparing homosexual acts to allowing for “man on child, man on dog” relationships.
Meanwhile, there’s always the chance that a renewed focus on social issues could hurt Republican candidates, especially among women and independents.
Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, holds his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem as he waits to take the stage for his town hall campaign rally with Sen. John McCain at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014.