For about ten minutes, I thought Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, was going to be a surprisingly principled candidate for president, thus upending my impression that, these days, conservative Republicans’ idea of a public philosophy is to say whatever the base wants to hear.
Perry raised my eyebrows by sticking up for New York state’s right to adopt gay marriage, even though he and Texans might not like it. In July, Perry said this in a speech to Republican donors:
Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me.
“Wow,” I thought: “Could it be? A pro-federalism Republican who actually means it?”
Nah. As Mike Riggs nicely points out in Reason.com, the governor did a backflip on July 28, landing himself firmly in the camp of fair-weather federalism. Pressed by Tony Perkins of the anti-gay Family Research Council, he lent his support to a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage—which would, of course, prevent New York or any other state from adopting it.
Reading the transcript brings no clarity. Perry is right to say that a federal constitutional amendment must be approved by three-quarters of the states, and therefore “respects the rights of the states” as a matter of procedure. But there’s no way to square his support for the amendment as a matter of policy with his statement elsewhere in the same interview that states should compete with each other, or with his statement in Aspen that Texas and New York should be allowed to go their separate ways.
Even more bizarrely, he claims in virtually the same breath that “to not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas” by having “marriage forced upon us by these activist judges and special interest groups.” Got that? States should be allowed to compete. Except when they don’t all make the same choices.
It’s impossible to make any sense at all of this hash. But Perry’s point isn’t to be sensible; it’s to sound like a true-blue federalist without actually being one. And that, indeed, has been the strategy of supporters of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment since literally Day One, when they announced that their amendment would strip authority from activist judges, even though, quite obviously, its real effect was to strip power from the states.
It’s quite easy to write an amendment telling federal judges to stay away from gay marriage. (“Nothing in this Constitution requires any state or the federal government to recognize anything but a union of one man and one woman as a marriage.” QED.) But, as Perry’s tail-chasing makes clear, the real goal here is to exploit the label of federalism, not to respect its meaning.