Eight years ago, the U.S. economy was languishing. We were bogged down in two wars, and the national debt was rising. President Bush was up for re-election, and Republicans needed a wedge issue. They found it in Massachusetts, whose Supreme Judicial Court in 2003 had asserted a statewide right to gay marriage. Seizing the opportunity, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ran around the country declaring a national moral crisis. Republicans, urged on by Bush, introduced a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage.
Republicans made gay marriage a wedge issue. Now that it hurts them, they call it “divisive.”
On June 18, 2004, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., the subcommittee chairman entrusted with the amendment, joined two colleagues at a press conference to promote it. Cornyn declared gay marriage an economic issue:
We know from some of the social experimentation that’s occurred in Scandinavia and elsewhere that when same-sex couples can legally marry, that essentially what happens is people quit getting married across the board, and more people raise children outside of marriage at higher risk for a whole host of social ills, placing additional burdens on the government and the taxpayers that support that government.
A reporter asked the senators about Democratic complaints that the GOP was “playing divisive election-year politics.” Cornyn brushed off the idea. “I don’t think it is a particularly divisive issue,” he replied. “I think, when the American people get a chance to have their voice heard, that they will overwhelmingly reaffirm their commitment to traditional marriage.”
Four days later, Cornyn and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee held ahearing on the marriage amendment. Romney flew down to be the lead witness. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc, called it “a politically motivated exercise” and pointed out that the country was “struggling every day with so many more pressing issues.” Romney disagreed:
I want to spend my time devoted to working in our schools and helping our kids, finding ways to provide more prescription benefits for our senior citizens, doing a better job to provide a stronger economy and more jobs to our citizens. Those are our highest priority. But when our Supreme Judicial Court acted, they brought forward a change in a definition of an institution which is fundamental to my state, fundamental to our nation. And in order to preserve the rights of respective states to set their own policies with regards to marriage, I believe this amendment, or one of a similar nature, is necessary.
A month later, when Democratic senators condemned the amendment as “divisive” and “the politics of mass distraction,” Romney insisted in a CNBC interview that politicians must be put on the record:
A lot of big things are going on. But for some people, myself included, how children are going to be raised in the next generation and the one after that is also important, and it’s worth discussing and having politicians have to vote on. Most politicians don’t want to you know where they stand on that issue. And I think it’s appropriate for us to know where people stand.
That was 2004. Eight years later, Cornyn is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Romney is the party’s de facto presidential nominee, and both men are singing a very different tune.