ThinkProgress filed this report from a campaign event in Littleton, NH
As social conservatives laid down a firm line against marriage equality — from civil unions to same-sex marriage — at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington last week, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) has a different message: Americans have not done enough to foster equality when it comes to civil partnerships.
Huntsman does not support same-sex marriage, but as governor, he supported civil unions. On that issue, he is alone among the candidates for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination and at odds with social conservatives, many of whom stressed the importance of battling marriage equality at the conference.
But between New Hampshire campaign events Sunday, Huntsman told ThinkProgress that he doesn’t worry that his support for civil unions will hurt him in the GOP primary, and that he isn’t going to change his stance to tell people what they want to hear:
HUNTSMAN: I don’t worry about that at all, because I am who I am. I have certain beliefs and I don’t hide from those. … It is what it is, and I’m not going to change it. I believe in traditional marriage but I think, subordinate to that, we’ve done an inadequate job in the area of equality and reciprocal beneficiary rights. Some people will hold that against me, like maybe other issues. But I think some people will say, ‘That sounds right to me. That sounds fair.’
Huntsman noted that former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and William F. Buckley, the late conservative author and commentator, supported civil unions. “I’m guessing that a lot of Republicans and independents have that view as well,” he said.
But social conservatives at Faith and Freedom had a different view. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R), and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) all said they would not personally vote for a candidate who supported civil unions and said that such a candidate would have trouble winning the GOP nomination.
“I’ve got to be frank with you, I don’t think someone who supports non-traditional marriage is going to be a front-runner with conservatives,” Kleefisch, who once likened gay marriage to allowing humans to marry clocks, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. When asked if he thought Republican primary voters would choose a candidate who supported civil unions, Westmoreland answered, “Probably not.”
Recent polling has shown, for the first time, that a majority of Americans support full marriage equality, a policy that falls even to the left of Huntsman’s moderate stance. Independents now support marriage equality in higher numbers than ever before, but Republican opposition has held steady, suggesting that Huntsman’s support for civil unions could indeed hurt him among more conservative primary voters.