Perry flip-flops on social policies

Samian Quazi

Gov. Rick Perry’s all-but-declared presidential bid garnered national attention recently when he characterized abortion and gay marriage as issues best left to states. After consternation from social conservatives, Perry flip-flopped and called for constitutional bans on both. Conservatism only afforded Perry a choice between the incoherent and the extreme.

The Tea Party’s overwhelming influence on the Republican Party since last November’s midterm elections has slowly altered conservative thought. For decades, a coalition of national security hawks, religious social conservatives and anti-tax purists gave Republicans a reliable base to draw votes upon. But the Tea Party’s insistence on state sovereignty and its stringently dogmatic interpretation of the federal Constitution have upended this traditional coalition.

Influenced by libertarian figures such as Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, Tea Party members advocate a renewed emphasis on states’ rights vis-a-vis the 10th Amendment. The amendment, which delegates powers not already spelled out for the federal government to the states, implies state sovereignty over social issues. Such an approach suggests one state could have legalized gay marriage, while another could outlaw abortion, and neither state’s decision should be superseded by a uniform status nationwide.

At an Aspen, Colo., speech last month, Perry felt compelled to address gay marriage through the 10th Amendment lens. He noted New York’s recent legalization of gay marriage as well as Texas’ state constitutional ban, which voters approved in 2005.

“Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. You know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me,” Perry said, according to The Associated Press.

Several days later, the governor doubled down on his 10th Amendment-based views to the enduringly volatile issue of abortion. During his prolonged tenure in politics, Perry has cultivated a persona of an ardent social conservative willing to promote restrictions on abortion as far as possible. In the most recent legislative session, Perry shepherded bills to mandate women seeking abortions be forced to view a fetal sonogram and listen to its heartbeat. Social conservatives naturally assumed he would endeavor to ban abortions nationwide if elected president.

But at a bill-signing ceremony in Houston, Perry indicated that abortion should also remain a states’ rights issue. If Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that decriminalized abortion nationwide, were ever overturned, he said that each state should be able to decide whether to keep abortion legal.

“You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that,’” he said, according to
ABC News.

Socially conservative groups pounced on his remarks, as they found his tolerance for gay marriage and abortion rights in certain states anathema to their long-term goals. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., a stalwart crusader against gay marriage and abortion rights, opined whether Perry would condone polygamy if a given state legalized it. Joseph Farah, the editor-in-chief of the popular conservative website WorldNetDaily, lamented he had been “fooled” into his infatuation with Perry, whom Farah described as engaging in “cultural surrender.”

To an extent, these critics have a point. Does anyone truly expect anti-abortion groups to stay content with “murder” of a so-called “unborn child” in Vermont as long as the procedure is banned in Mississippi? Would they consent to libertarian views on interstate commerce, where women seeking abortions could simply cross state lines to clinics awaiting them on the other side?

Ditto for gay marriage. Loving v. Virginia (1967) ruled certain states could not ban interracial marriages. If a given state were still allowed to deny gays their civil right to marriage, why would a state no longer be prohibited from refusing interracial marriages? Married gay couples shouldn’t have to live in a country operated as a series of fiefdoms, with variable levels of respect for their union. Neither do straight couples.

Perhaps Perry, ever the political opportunist, sought to hedge his bets to lure socially moderate voters. A recent Harris Poll indicated a new peak for abortion rights, with 36 percent of adults supporting abortion rights in all circumstances and a further 47 percent in some circumstances. And recent national polls have shown more support than opposition for gay marriage, with overwhelming support from young Americans.

Yet under pressure, Perry bowed to the most conservative elements of his party. A contrite Perry told The Christian Broadcasting Network on Wednesday that he would seek constitutional bans of abortion and gay marriage at the federal level, effectively disavowing his earlier remarks. This Faustian bargain may solidify social conservative endearment to his candidacy, but it doesn’t represent the views of America’s sensible majority.


Quazi is a nursing graduate student.