News,  Politics

Rick Perry’s Backtracking on Gay Marriage

With public opinion seeming to move in favor of gay marriage (see my previous post), I guess it should be no surprise that politicians would be trimming their sails to the prevailing winds as well. Still, I was unhappy to hear the news that Governor Rick Perry took a libertarianish stance on the issue in remarks made at a Republican fundraiser last week. Commenting on the legalization of gay marriage in New York, he said this:

“Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”

As you can imagine, these remarks left a little bit to be desired for those who support the sanctity of marriage. And some even began questioning whether or not Perry could carry the banner for social conservatives at all. I think Governor Perry understands the backlash from his potential supporters and is himself now backtracking.

Tony Perkins interviewed Rick Perry today and took him to task on his remarks from last week. Listen to the audio or read the transcript below.


TONY PERKINS: You mentioned a moment ago the marriage amendment back in Texas, back in 2005 or, I think it was 2005.

GOV. PERRY: Yes sir, yes sir.

TONY PERKINS: In fact I was down there for a number of those pastors conferences. Worked with you on a couple of occasions as we were promoting that marriage amendment in Texas, so I know where you stand on the issue. But last week you were in Aspen, Colorado, at a Republican governor’s event, and you made some comments regarding New York’s recent passage of same-sex marriage. If I can, I want to quote those words from you that have been circulated, and give you a chance to respond to that.


TONY PERKINS: You said that, “Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said that marriage can be between two people of the same sex and you know what that is New York and that is their business and that is fine with me, that is their call. If you believe in the tenth amendment, stay out of their business”.

GOV. PERRY: Let me just, I probably needed to add a few words after “that’s fine with me” its fine with me that the state is using their sovereign right to decide an issue. Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me, my stance had not changed. I believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

My record as governor of Texas reflects that — a very strong commitment to defending traditional marriage, including those efforts of Texas to pass the defense of marriage act, which you were at some of those events where we were promoting the people and state of Texas to go and defend traditional values.

And I might add it overwhelmingly was adopted by seventy-five percent of Texas voters. Again, my comment reflects my recognition that marriage and most issues of the family historically have been decided by the people at the state and local level. That is absolutely the state of law under our constitution.

TONY PERKINS: Well, I agree as an author of nation’s first convent marriage law in the state of Louisiana back when I was in office. I think marriage and family policy is best dealt with at the state level. But the tenth amendment — and I am a strong supporter. I fought the federal government on a number of issues when they were trying to force us to do things.

But when you look at what’s happening on marriage, the real fear is that states like New York will change the definition of marriage for Texas. At that point the states rights argument is lost.

GOV. PERRY: Right and that is the reason that the federal marriage amendment is being offered, it’s that small group of activist judges, and frankly a small handful, if you will, of states, and liberal special interests groups that intend on a redefinition of, if you will, marriage on the nation, for all of us, which I adamantly oppose.

Indeed to not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas, and other states not to have marriage forced upon us by these activist judges and special interest groups.

Our constitution was designed to respect states including the amendment process. That is one of the beauties and why I talk about in my book “Fed Up” that we need as a nation to get back to really respecting our constitution and the tenth amendment in particular which allows the states to impede against each other, whether it is on taxes or regulations or litigation and create the economic environment.

But the overall constitutional protection, if you will, by and how we amend our United States Constitution to reflect the values of the nation as whole is very important. Balanced budget amendment, another one of those with all of the debt ceiling talk going on right now. The balanced budget amendment and clearly telling those people in Washington, “look your spending too much money, and one way we protect your human nature, which is to say yes to special interest groups, is to prohibit you from doing that by passing a balanced budget amendment.” And I hope we’ll do that, and I hope we also pass the federal marriage amendment as well.

TONY PERKINS: Governor, we are about out of time but I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think I hear what you are saying. The support given what’s happening across the nation, the fear of the courts, the administration’s failure to defend the defense of marriage act.

The only and thin line of protection for those states that have defined marriage, that have been historically been defined between a man and a woman. The support of a marriage amendment is a pro-state’s rights position, because it will defend the rights of states to define marriage as it has been.

GOV. PERRY: Yes sir, and I have long supported the appointment of judges who respect the constitution and the passage of a federal marriage amendment. That amendment defines marriage between one man and one woman, and it protects the states from being told otherwise. It respects the rights of the state by requiring three quarters of a states vote to ratify. It’s really strong medicine but is again our founding fathers had such great wisdom and their wisdom is just as clear and profound today as it was back in the late eighteenth century.

TONY PERKINS: Well Governor Perry I want to thank you from taking time out of your schedule to join us on Washington Watch Radio. I look forward to being with you in Houston, Texas, in Reliant Stadium I look forward to seeing you.

GOV. PERRY: It’s going to be a great day and I look forward to being with you, God speed to you and God bless you.

Governor Perry is acting like he wants to run for the Republican nomination for President. He’ll have to do better than this if he wants the enthusiastic support of his base.


  • Joe Rigney


    I’d love to hear you flesh out exactly what you think is problematic about Perry’s position here. I think I see a potential problem in his thinking, but overall I’m attracted to his approach and instincts (i.e. let’s fight 50 state battles rather than one winnner-take-all federal battle).

    • Denny Burk


      As far as i know, Perry is down the line in his official policy positions. Nevertheless, I am still left scratching my head at his rhetoric.

      Why did he adopt a kind of libertarian rhetoric at this fundraiser? Why did he seem to be more intent on being seen as a federalist than as someone who will be an articulate spokesman for the sanctity of marriage? Will he make the case for marriage, or will he just have a set of policy positions that he never acts on?

      Invoking the 10th amendment seems a little out of place here, and I’m glad Perkins called him out on it. The constitution gives the federal govt the power to regulate interstate commerce. What happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas (or in this case New York). States that prohibit gay marriage will get dragged into accepting gay marriage when either congress or the courts repeal or strike down DOMA. But we don’t have to wait for that to see that we already have a constitutional question about differing definitions of marriage from state to state.

      Knowing that, how can he be “fine” about what New York did? Something doesn’t add up here.


      • MIke Maharrey

        Are you really suggesting that marriage is an “interstate commerce” issue? I hope there won’t be any caterwaulng from this corner if the courts uphold the federal insurance mandates.

        The purpose for the commerce clause was literally to “make regular” commerce between states. In essence, to keep one state from imposing barriers to trade with another, ie. slapping tariffs on products coming in from other states. It wasn’t meant to allow the feds to regulate agriculture or manufacturing (that falls outside of the definition of “commerce”. It wasn’t meant to allow a national health care program. And it certainly wasn’t meant to give the feds power to define or otherwise stick their nose into how states choose to define marriage.

        “It is very certain that [the commerce clause] grew out of the abuse of the power by the importing States in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government.” – James Madison

        In this case, Perry is right. The federal government possesses no enumerated power to insert itself into the issue of marriage. That rightly leaves the power “to the states and the people.” New Yorkers have the authority to recognize gay marriage. Texas has an equal authority to refuse to recognize it, and should not be forced to accept a gay marriage from NY. If the couple wants state sanctioned recognition of their marriage (which is absurd in my mind), they will have to remain in a state that chooses to recognize it.

        The fact that states refusing recognize to gay marriage might get dragged into accepting it by the courts only proves the total lack of constitutional restraint that now exists. I does not invalidate the actual constitutional principle upon which the nation was founded. Instead of fighting to allow the feds to regulate something they have no authority to interfere in, how about fighting for the right of both New Yorkers and Texans to be protected?

        I’ll tell you why – because most people like the idea of big government power when it will achieve their own ends, but scream tyranny when that same power, power that they so recently embraced, gets turned against something counter to their own agenda.

        Ironically, Row v. Wade, something I would imagine most of your readers would oppose, also represents and unconstitutional overreach. States should have the power to define murder as they see fit. And therein lies the best hope of limiting abortion. Clearly, hoping for the courts to change thing hasn’t advanced that cause.

        The problem most Americans have, and it is exemplified here, is they want to pick and choose constitutional principles based on the issue at hand. Gay marriage – give the feds power. Health care? Scream Tenth Amendment. But the Constitution is not a weapon to be wielded winning this or that political fight.

        Consider this – follow the Constitution, every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

        And if you really want a uniform definition of marriage across all 50 states, you have a remedy. Amend the Constitution.

  • Dustin


    I see what you are saying and I totally agree that marriage should be defined as one man to one woman, no doubt.

    That said, I’ve read Governor Perry’s comment both in the broader context and in the quote above and neither time did I think he was advocating that gay marriage was ok. Each time I understood his comment, “That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call” not as speaking to gay marriage but rather to the sovereignty of each state to make the decision. Did he word it poorly, perhaps (ok, he did), but I’m not sure it’s really fair to say that he’s backtracking. Is it possible, sure. However, if he was truly backtracking and meant that he was okay with what NY did (as a personal stance) I think he would know that he’d have a bigger problem on his hands for even considering thinking in that way.

    I’m not sure what I think of Perry as a Presidential candidate (or as my Governor honestly), so I’m definitely no apologist for him, but I really his statement was referring to leaving decisions up to the states. Just my .02

    • Denny Burk


      Did you notice that in the original speech, he seemed to be standing aloof from advocating traditional marriage. He said he was “fine” with what New York did. I’m not fine with what New York did. I don’t know any traditional marriage supporter who is fine with what New York did.

      This is one of the most significant moral issues of our time and he congratulates New York’s gay marriage vote because it respects federalism? That’s great and all, but for me there’s more at stake here than federalism. I would rather have heard him say something like this:

      “New York has the right to enact laws concerning marriage, which they recently did in legalizing gay marriage. And New York got it wrong. That is why we need an amendment to the constitution defining marriage between one man and one woman.”

      In other words, why not give at least a tip of the hat to marriage?


  • Christianes

    Not sure about this, Denny, but I think your post’s photo of ‘Gov. Rick Perry’ looks a lot more like Gov. Walker of Wisconsin and his wife, than Rick Perry.

  • Joe Rigney

    Christianes, Governor Perry is in the foreground. Governor Walker is in the background and Governor Haley of South Carolina and Governor McDonnell of Virginia are in between.


    I agree with the concern and think your re-write of what he ought to have said is better. Oppose gay marriage as a matter of principle, allow individual states to decide the matter for themselves, and maintain DOMA and if necessary, an amendment. One question that I have though: Which is preferable: an amendment that defines for all states that marriage is one man and one woman (thus negating the laws of NY and Massachusetts, etc), or a constitutionally mandated DOMA (i.e. allows individual states to go either way, but prevents NY from imposing on Texas)?

    The reason I even ask is that in my mind, one of the biggest problems with all of the culture war issues is that they are all federal. The centralization of government is a huge part of the problem and the more that issues become nationalized, the worse off we are, both economically and culturally. That’s why I wonder if an amendment that re-establishes the 10th amendment (i.e. clarifies the meaning, restricts the power of the feds, including in relation to commerce clause) is the best way. Let’s make as many issues as possible states issues and then win lots of smaller battles, focusing our efforts rather than going for broke with a national issue.

  • Nate

    I agree with Denny’s concern. The issue for me is that Perry, while attempting to backtrack from his previoius statement, refused to acknowledge that the people of New York did not vote for this, but that the state forced it upon them. At the very least Perry could have stated that the people of New York deserved the right to vote on such a contentous issue. If he had said that, his 10th amendment statement would have carried more weight. Perry is coming across as another politician who can’t take a stand and live with its conseqences, but rather tries to please everyone.

    • Paul

      Nate, (speaking of the “right” as a whole, not necessarily you) First it’s bad when a judge, in their judicial duties of weighing laws against their state’s and the federal constitution, decides that anyone should be able to enter into contractual agreement in matters of estate, because that’s legislating from the bench, and legislating should be left up to legislatures (even though when conservative judges legislate from the bench in a pro-business sense, those are “constitutional” judges).

      Now that it’s been left up to a legislature, now THAT’s not good enough. Instead, a contentious wedge issue of rights should be left up to the electorate?

      When you can prove to me that the civil rights bill would have passed a popular vote in South Carolina in 1964, come talk to me about that one. Until that point, that’s bully politics at its worst. It would be one thing if Evangelical Christians, Muslims and Conservative Jews banded together to fight this “great evil” known as gay marriage.

  • Joe Rigney


    Not sure that your concern works. Ours is a representative, not a direct, democracy. Iowa and Massachusetts had gay marriage forced on them by activist judges. New York’s duly elected representatives voted for the bill and it was signed into law by their Governor. If New Yorkers really don’t want gay marriage, then they should have elected other representatives (I understand that there was some deal-making and so forth to get the requisite votes, but regardless, the bill passed the legislature, which is the normal mode of passing laws in this country).

    • Nate

      Joe, I agree with you completely as to how our laws are passed. However, on such a contentious issue as this a vote by the people carries far more weight. If your methodology were to be followed to its logical end, you couldn’t stand against abortion since the Supreme Court judges were selected by duly elected politicians. So I think Perry is failing to take a stand and is now wanting to have it both ways.

  • yankeegospelgirl

    Perry’s original comments were just ignorant. By scolding conservatives in that way, he implied that conservatives were advocating something that would violate 10th Amendment rights. A constitutional amendment is obviously nothing of the sort. So he wasn’t even making good sense to begin with. It just sounded like a cute soundbite. Dumb, dumb, dumb…

  • Barry Applewhite

    You should trust your gut. Rick Perry will sail with whatever wind is blowing toward the White House. His first allegiance is to Rick Perry, not Jesus and not the USA. You have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Here in Texas we have seen this again and again.


  • Paula

    First, I think we have to allow that candidates (and legislators) are humans and will misspeak at times. How they walk it back is important, but I think even more important is the candidate’s past history. Are his statements backed up by his record? What is Gov. Perry’s record on gay marriage/gay rights? On Federalism? What he said at an isolated fundraiser is probably not nearly as good an indicator of how he would governor than how he has actually governed.

    For example, Mitt Romney gives endless speeches touting his social and fiscal cred – he’s well-rehearsed and rarely makes a gaffe. But the man never governed as a conservative. I’m not a Dr. Phil fan, but I’ve heard him say something like, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” (regenerated new creations in Christ excepted, of course!). I tend to lean that direction when choosing a candidate.

    I think there are some issues with Perry to be concerned about (immigration, the Gardisil mandate to name two). I’m not sure this issue is one that would trouble me. For what it’s worth, his Federalist answer is the same one Michele Bachmann gave in the GOP debate.

    There’s a lot more to be troubled about with Romney, Paul, Huntsman, Gingrich, Cain, and Jimmy McMillan.

  • Christianes

    Is it felt that Perry is ‘playing’ to ‘his base’ in a way that is insincere?

    Are people accepting Perry ‘as he is’, and considering him to be a viable possible candidate who will appeal to the voting public in general?

    What is known about Perry that would make him a good candidate?

    What is known about Perry that might make him a poor candidate to appeal to the generic American voter ?

    Questions . . .

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