When news broke that the Obama administration had decided to stop defending DOMA in court because the law in unconstitutional, the Religious Right went nuts and immediately swung into action to get Congress to step in and take up the fight.
President Obama’s decision to abandon his legal support for the Defense of Marriage Act has generated only mild rebukes from the Republicans hoping to succeed him in 2012, evidence of a shifting political climate in which social issues are being crowded out by economic concerns.
The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that after two years of defending the law — hailed by proponents in 1996 as an cornerstone in the protection of traditional values — the president and his attorney general have concluded it is unconstitutional.
In the hours that followed, Sarah Palin’s Facebook site was silent. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was close-mouthed. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, released a Web video — on the labor union protests in Wisconsin — and waited a day before issuing a marriage statement saying he was “disappointed.”
Others, like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, took their time weighing in, and then did so only in the most tepid terms. “The Justice Department is supposed to defend our laws,” Mr. Barbour said.
Asked if Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor of Indiana and a possible presidential candidate, had commented on the marriage decision, a spokeswoman said that he “hasn’t, and with other things we have going on here right now, he has no plans.”
But if the GOP thinks it can sit this one out, it had better think again because its Religious Right base is demanding that Republican leaders and candidates step up and make this a central issue heading into 2012:
Angered conservatives are vowing to make same-sex marriage a front-burner election issue, nationally and in the states, following the Obama administration’s announcement that it will no longer defend the federal law denying recognition to gay married couples.
“The ripple effect nationwide will be to galvanize supporters of marriage,” said staff counsel Jim Campbell of Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group.
On the federal level, opponents of same-sex marriage urged Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to intervene on their own to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, against pending court challenges.
“The president has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging Congress,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “It is incumbent upon the Republican leadership to respond by intervening to defend DOMA, or they will become complicit in the president’s neglect of duty.”
Conservatives also said they would now expect the eventual 2012 GOP presidential nominee to highlight the marriage debate as part of a challenge to Obama, putting the issue on equal footing with the economy.
Perkins, the Family Research Council leader, suggested that House Republicans would risk alienating their conservative base if they did not tackle the marriage issue head-on.
“The president was kind of tossing this cultural grenade into the Republican camp,” he said.
“If they ignore this, it becomes an issue that will lead to some very troubling outcomes for Republicans.”