The bulk of Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the White House in 2016 emphasized support for religious liberty during both of Thursday’s FOX News presidential debates.
Upon questioning from debate moderators and via Facebook and other social media platforms, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said they strongly supported protecting religious liberty during the 9 p.m. debate for the top tier of GOP contenders, as did Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal during the 5 p.m. debate.
Paul gave a largely libertarian-leaning answer when he was asked by a woman on Facebook what he would do to ensure that Christians were not prosecuted for speaking out against gay marriage, and asked if Christians will be forced to do business that conflicts with their religious beliefs.
“Look, I don’t want my marriage, or my guns, registered in Washington,” Paul said. “And if people have an opinion, as a religious opinion that is heartily felt, obviously they should go out and practice that, and no government should interfere with them.”
But Paul also pivoted to attack Houston Mayor Annise Parker for subpoenaing the sermons of ministers who spoke about homosexuality, gender identity or Parker specifically as part of an ongoing squabble over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The HERO, which will go before voters this November, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and a number of other areas.
“One of the things that really got to me was the thing in Houston, where you had the government, the mayor, actually trying to get the sermons of ministers,” Paul said. “When the government tries to invade the church and force its own opinion on marriage, that’s when it’s time to resist.”
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz rattled off his defense of religious liberty as part of his conservative bona fides when it comes to social issues. He did this several times throughout the debate. Quoting Scripture, Cruz said, “You shall know them by their fruits,” accusing — though not by name — some fellow Republicans of not being sufficiently conservative enough.
“We see lots of campaign conservatives,” Cruz said. “But if we’re going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who’s been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative. There are real differences among the candidates on issues like amnesty, like Obamacare, like religious liberty, like life and marriage, and I have been proud to fight and stand for religious liberty…for my entire career, and I will be proud to continue to do so as President of the United States.”
Jindal also pledged to make sure that the Internal Revenue Service was “not going after conservative or religious groups,” a reference to an alleged “scandal” within the Obama administration having to do with targeting groups — primarily conservative in their political bent — based on words or themes that appeared in their names. IRS employees had selected the groups in question for further investigation to ensure that they were not illegally obtaining tax-exempt status while engaging in nakedly political or partisan lobbying.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night with respect to LGBT rights came when Ohio Gov. John Kasich broke from party orthodoxy when answering a question from FOX News’ Megan Kelly about same-sex marriage. Kelly asked Kasich what he would tell one of his children about his opposition to same-sex marriage if they happened to be gay.
“Look, I’m an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage,” Kasich said. “But I’ve also said the court has ruled and I said, ‘We’ll accept it.’ And guess what? I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine, who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think they way I do, doesn’t mean I can’t care about them or I can’t love them.
“So, if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them, and I would accept them,” Kasich said as the crowd in the arena broke into applause, with some audience members registering screams of approval. “Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith. Issues like that are planted to divide us. I think the simple fact of the matter is — and this is where I would agree with Jeb [Bush], and I’ve been saying it all along — we need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect, and let them share in this great American dream that we have…. God gives me unconditional love, I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”
By comparison, during the earlier debate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum urged conservatives not to give up on their opposition to same-sex marriage, saying they could pursue other avenues, such as passing laws to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality. Santorum even compared the idea that marriage equality could be considered “settled law” to the infamous Dred Scott decision that allowed a slaveholder to retain ownership over his slave, even in states and territories were slavery was abolished, because people of African descent were not considered citizens under the Constitution. Santorum, like Jindal, also said that one of the first actions he would take as president would be to issue an executive order protecting religious liberty.
Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee went out on a limb when asked a question about how he would deal with allowing transgender military members to serve openly.
“The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things,” Huckabee said to cheers and applause. “It is not to transform the culture by trying out some ideas that some people think would make us a different country and more diverse. The purpose of the military is to protect America. I’m not sure how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, makes our country safer.”
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