Crist reawakens ghost of anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment

Four years after Congress last seriously considered a federal constitutional amendment on marriage, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent for U.S. Senate, managed to broach the issue Sunday in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union.

Crist faces a tough, three-way race against Republican Marc Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek. As CNN reports, Crist finds himself in the awkward position of attempting to play all of his politics in a middle-of-the-road style – not as conservative as Rubio and not as progressive as Meek. Obviously, it is a strategy meant to appeal to moderates and independents. It’s also strategy that might have zero chance of working, especially if Crist’s confusing and/or unclear statements bring up specters of legislative fights long ago considered dead. That’s exactly what happened yesterday.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida wrote at yesterday: “Crist who is running as an independent for the US Senate has been charting a new political course aimed a pulling moderate Demorcrats, Republicans and Independents. His comments today threatened that delicate coalition.”

The transcript from CNN, with Crist and anchor Ed Henry (via Equality Florida Blog):

HENRY: Another big issue, same-sex marriage. Many conservatives like Marco Rubio support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But this week, the former Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman came out and said he’s gay and he called on conservatives to kind of move to the political center and be more tolerant on this issue. You have previously said in your gubernatorial campaign, you supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Now that you’re trying to occupy the political center, are you still in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage?

CRIST: I feel the same way, yes, because I feel that marriage is a sacred institution, if you will. But I do believe in tolerance. I’m a live and let live kind of guy, and while I feel that way about marriage, I think if partners want to have the opportunity to live together, I don’t have a problem with that.

And I think that’s where most of America is. So I think that you know, you have to speak from the heart about these issues. They are very personal. They have a significant impact on an awful lot of people and the less the government is telling people what to do, the better off we’re all going to be. But when it comes to marriage, I think it is a sacred institution. I believe it is between a man and woman, but partners living together, I don’t have a problem with.

HENRY: But governor, doesn’t it sounds like you having it both ways by saying live and let live, but I also support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. If it’s live and let live, why would you ban same-sex marriage?

CRIST: Well, everything is in a matter of degree, Ed, and when it becomes to the institution of marriage, I believe that it is between a man and a woman, it’s just how I feel.

Advocates in Florida and elsewhere immediately jumped on Crist’s statements, forcing the governor’s Senate campaign to issue a clarification:

In an interview that aired today, I was not discussing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage, which I do not support, but rather reaffirming my position regarding Florida’s constitutional ban that I articulated while running for Governor. In fact, the interviewer’s question reflected just that.  I am fully supportive of civil unions and will continue to be as a United States Senator, but believe marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.

As Crist said in his clarification, Florida (and 29 other states, by the way) does already have a state constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. It’s easy to see how Crist’s CNN interview caused some confusion: why debate something already voted on and embedded in Florida’s governing document?

Perhaps, it might be best for Crist and other similarly placed candidates to be a little clearer when discussing marriage in the future. Any support, perceived or real, for a federal marriage could hurt chances with independents and moderates, especially as any national debate on such an amendment looks dead. The last time it came up for a vote was in July 2006. Then, the U.S. House defeated it 236 to 187, far short of 290 votes needed to move it on to the Senate. Further, public opinion is growing ever more accepting of LGBT people and their relationships. A recent study by Public Religion Research Institute of over 20 years of Pew Research Center polls on various issues shows striking progress. Support for civil unions has increased from 45 percent in 2003 to 57 percent in 2009. Support for marriage equality has also increased, from 30 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in January 2010.

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.