One of the skills that has kept Rick Perry in power is that he has a knack for knowing where his constituency stands on most issues. But his instincts failed him when he comingled states-rights with gay marriage. I’m referring, of course, to Perry’s statement to the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group, that New York’s approval of same-sex marriages was “fine with me.” This will probably turn out to be a minor bobble in Perry’s pursuit of the presidency, but it is definitely a bobble. It looks as if Perry hasn’t yet figured out who his constituency is, for a presidential race. Talking states rights works great for a Texas constituency that Perry has kept stirred up with his repeated confrontations with the federal government over EPA interference, lack of border security, immigration, and health care, but it isn’t going to play well in the states that were on the winning side in the Civil War. Do Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York care about the Tenth Amendment? Taking the country as a whole, millions more are concerned about gay marriage than states rights. If Perry is going to have a successful race for the presidency, one of the first things he is going to have to come to grips with is that the rest of the country (outside the South, at least) doesn’t think like Texas does and isn’t as conservative as Texas is. That is certainly true when it comes to states’ rights, and also for gay marriage. Perry tried to undo his flip-flop in an interview that the Family Research Council posted on its Web site, stating (as he often has) his opposition to gay marriage and his support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman (an issue that was a favorite of Karl Rove’s during the Bush years). Perry rarely gets caught in a squeeze like this. And the reason he rarely gets caught is that he rarely interacts with people who don’t think like he does–especially the media. He was able to stiff them in the governor’s race, and maybe he can control his schedule for a presidential race to Fox and more Fox, but the bobble ought to be a warning sign to Perry that presidential races are much more complex than state races, and that he is going to have to choose his words carefully.
That opinion, based on Perry’s belief that the 10th Amendment grants the authority for such decisions to the states, was criticized by some members of the governor’s base of political support — social and religious conservatives. But in an interview with the Family Research Council that was posted on the organization’s blog, Perry repeated his opposition to gay marriage and his support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that limits marriage to one man and one woman. “I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue,” Perry told council President Tony Perkins. “Obviously, gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.” While critics have noted that a constitutional amendment would be akin to the federal government telling New York and other states how to define marriage, Perry said it would be “strong medicine” that protects states like Texas that have banned same-sex nuptials. “Indeed, to not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas and other states not to have (gay) marriage forced upon them by these activist judges, these special interest groups,” Perry said. Perry’s statement about New York’s new policy raised unwelcome questions about his conservative credentials as the governor contemplates a run for president. Emerging as a potential front-runner for the GOP nomination, Perry also has been targeted by some conservatives for his 2008 endorsement of “pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage” Rudy Giuliani, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee recently described the former New York mayor. By reaching out to the Family Research Council, Perry gains access to supporters of an organization that opposes abortion, gay rights and stem cell research while supporting school prayer, abstinence-based sex education and the teaching of intelligent design as a counterpoint to evolution. The council’s leader, Perkins, is a former Republican member of the Louisiana House who was recently named a co-chair for the Response, Perry’s Christian prayer rally set for Aug. 6 in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Perkins’ organization posted the marriage portion of the Perry interview online and planned to make the rest available today.