The Supreme Court's unexpected decision clearing the way for same-sex marriages in five states could benefit GOP lawmakers — by deflecting attention on the sensitive issue away from them.
Conservatives, nonetheless, expressed outrage by the ruling, while more moderate Republicans looked at it from a tactical point of view.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a likely 2016 Republican presidential contender, called the court's move "tragic and indefensible." He vowed to introduce a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban gay marriage.
"This is judicial activism at its worst," Cruz said in a statement. "The Constitution entrusts state legislatures, elected by the People, to define marriage consistent with the values and mores of their citizens. Unelected judges should not be imposing their policy preferences to subvert the considered judgments of democratically elected legislatures."
The evangelical American Renewal Project told The Washington Post
it plans to take aim at lower-court judges who have overturned anti-gay-marriage statutes and constitutional provisions.
"Impeachment begins in the House. I can't figure out why a simple congressman won't drop a bill of impeachment to remove people who are doing this to our country," said the group's leader, David Lane. "We're going to deal with these problems — unelected and unaccountable judges — who have no right to interfere with the will of a free people."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also weighed in to call the decision "disappointing." He suggested that justices should affirm that states have the right to restrict marriage to a union between a man and a woman, the Post reported.
Other, less conservative Republicans, viewed the ruling strategically.
"We don't have to agree with the decision, but as long as we're not against it we should be OK," one aide to a 2016 candidate told Time,
requesting anonymity. "The base, meanwhile, will focus its anger on the court, and not on us."
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who's in a fierce re-election campaign — and has also been mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential contender — declared the battle to prevent same-sex marriage is "over in Wisconsin," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals is the law of the land and we will be upholding it."
Similarly, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie
over the summer called the issue "settled" in the Garden State, too, despite his personal opposition.
At a forum in Washington, D.C., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also considering a run for the White House, said the issue was no longer political, noting "the law is certainly in the Court's court," Time reports.
But evangelical leaders aren't ready to let politicians off the hook.
"For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue," the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Ralph Reed said in a statement.
And political operative Alex Castellanos, who was part of a friend of the court brief against the Defense of Marriage Act last year, told Time: "The GOP is a culturally conservative party and should remain so."
"Increasingly, there is less room in the GOP for 'big-government' social conservatives, i.e., social conservatives who believe in using the power of the state to tell people whom they can love or marry. Instead, there is growing agreement, in an ever younger and increasingly libertarian Republican party, that the role of the state in prohibiting relationships should be minimized," he said.
Time reports evangelical conservative leaders will probably press Republican candidates to support a federal "marriage amendment" to prohibit same-sex marriage.
The issue has the backing of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is preparing to mount another campaign for the White House, and has been backed as well by Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence,
another name that has surfaced as a possible White House candidate.
An amendment would face long odds, Time notes — requiring passage by two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states' legislatures.
Keith Appell, a Republican political consultant, told Time Republicans will begin to focus on the judicial appointments that could open up under the next president.
"Filling those vacancies will shape the court for the next generation and it'll be a huge issue in both the primaries and the general election," he said. "Do we want activist judges who literally make the law up from the bench and impose it on the people, as is happening with these appellate rulings? Or do we want judges that fairly apply the law and leave the lawmaking to Congress, state and local legislatures?"
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