Before the 2012 election, the National Organization for Marriage released a marriage pledge and badgered Republican presidential candidates to sign it. NOM has done the same thing this time around, but there are telling differences between the two pledges.
In fact, NOM’s favored 2016 candidate, Ted Cruz, could not have signed the pledge from four years ago. As we’ve reported, Cruz signed NOM’s current marriage pledge and won the group’s endorsement. He was able to sign the new version thanks to a slight change in wording that seems designed to make the pledge palatable to Cruz while not calling attention to NOM’s retreat from a key demand made of 2012 candidates.
The first element of that pledge, which was released in 2011, was: “Support an amendment to the United States Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” NOM’s key demand was very clear: a constitutional amendment that would override state marriage equality laws as well as any court rulings in favor of marriage equality, much like the Federal Marriage Amendment proposed by President Bush.
But the equivalent first plank of this election’s marriage pledge, which NOM released last summer, is a vow to “support a federal constitutional amendment that protects marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Defines became protects. That word change apparently gave Cruz enough wiggle room to sign the pledge even though the constitutional amendment he favors would not enshrine a federal definition of marriage as a man and a woman, but would allow each state to make its own laws about marriage, overturning the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.
NOM praises Cruz for sponsoring what it now says is “one of our key objectives” — “an amendment to the U.S. Constitution restoring the right of states to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” In a December 9 press release announcing its endorsement, the group called Cruz “someone we can absolutely count on to fight to restore marriage to our nation’s laws and defend the religious liberty of the tens of millions of Americans who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” NOM pledged to do “everything in their power to support his election.”
Cruz seemingly tries to downplay the intensity of his opposition to LGBT equality when campaigning in places like New York and California. The newly nebulous language of NOM’s pledge allows him to continue telling anti-LGBT activists that their issues are a priority for him while insisting to less socially conservative audiences that his marriage equality opposition is grounded in a belief in states’ rights.
Along with the demand for a constitutional definition of marriage, the most recent pledge drops a couple of other planks: that a candidate defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court — moot after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA’s key provision; and a pledge to “support legislation that would return to the people of D.C. their right to vote for marriage” — which reflected Religious Right outrage at the time that district officials and courts rejected a referendum on D.C.’s marriage equality law as a violation of its Human Rights Act.
The two pledges include some similar provisions, including a promise to appoint judges and an attorney general who will uphold the “original meaning” of the Constitution and to support investigations of harassment of traditional marriage supporters. The pledge Cruz signed this time around also commits him to working to review “regulatory, administrative and executive actions taken by the current Administration that have the effect of undermining marriage” and “working to restore our policies to be consistent with the proper understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
It is worth noting that the pledge Cruz signed calls for support of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, the federal version of the “religious liberty” laws being promoted at the state level to give legal protections to people and organizations that discriminate against same-sex couples. And it would be interesting to hear a reporter ask Cruz what he means by pledging to “prevent the promotion of a redefined version of marriage in public schools and other government entities.”