Ohio Governor John Kasich has become the darling of the liberal media for his “touching response” to a question about same-sex marriage (as well as his “stirring defense” of accepting Obamacare Medicaid expansion money) in the debate last week. A Google search for “Kasich gay marriage” yields over 10,000 largely fawning articles, such as this piece by Slate’s LGBTQ editor extolling his “gracious and humane view.”
Asked by Megyn Kelly, “if you had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian, how would you explain to them your opposition to same-sex marriage?” Kasich replied:
Well, look, I’m an old fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage. But I’ve also said the court has ruled … and I said we’ll accept it. And guess what, I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith.
So the issues like that … are planted to divide us. I think the simple fact of the matter is … we need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect, and let them share in this great American dream that we have, Megan. So, look, I’m going to love my daughters, I’m going to love them no matter what they do. Because, you know what, God gives me unconditional love. I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.
Is Kasich Catering to Social Conservatives?
Despite the media adulation, Kasich’s performance doesn’t seem to have helped him much in the polls. Only 8 percent of GOP respondents in the first post-debate survey called him the winner; and while 54 percent said they had a more favorable opinion of him after the debate compared to only 18 percent who had a less favorable opinion, this just placed him in the middle of the pack – well behind Ben Carson’s 80 percent to 9 percent ratio and Marco Rubio’s 68 percent to 13 percent ratio. Yet these poll numbers among Republicans notwithstanding, some of the Kasich enthusiasm appears to have extended to conservatives as well as liberals, and not just to establishment organs like the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which termed his gay marriage answer “deft,” or Peggy Noonan, who characterized it as “lovely.” If my Facebook feed is any indication, Kasich’s appeal is increasing among social conservatives.
Yet this is not completely shocking. The part of Kasich’s gay marriage response that seems to have particularly resonated with social and religious conservatives – his invocation of the unconditional love that flows from his faith – was lovely and moving. The rest of his reply, however, should trouble cultural conservatives – especially when considered in the context of other things he has said about same-sex marriage and the rights of those with religious or other objections to it. His statements suggest that he’s not just an “old fashioned person” who “believes in traditional marriage” who would still love his daughters if they were gay, but rather an “evolved” politician who’s fully prepared to acquiesce to the same-sex agenda.
That’s speculation, of course. But even so, there’s been a lot of “evolution” on gay marriage, so what’s a “little straight lie” for the base when we need the votes of all those millennials riding around in their Ubers drinking their craft beer? What is not speculation, though – and what’s far more important in evaluating Kasich’s candidacy – is that his position on the tension between gay rights and religious and other first amendment freedoms is the worst of any of the seventeen GOP contenders.
The social conservatives who liked Kasich’s answer apparently took his ritual affirmation of belief in “traditional marriage” at face value, and didn’t recognize his stress on accepting the Court’s ruling, his enthusiastic reference to attending a gay wedding, or his tuttutting about the divisiveness of all social issues as a dog whistle to liberal opinion. But that’s the thing about dog whistles; only the dogs are supposed to hear them.
It’s Time for Kasich to Come out of the Closet
Kasich, whose senior strategists are the same pro-gay marriage consultants who managed the failed 2012 campaign of former Utah Governor and Obama Administration Ambassador Jon Huntsman, is indeed running as the Huntsman of 2016 – the candidate of the socially liberal, pro-business country club faction. He began beating the drum for “respecting” the Court’s marriage ruling two months before it was handed down, reiterating this sole point in interviews after the Obergefell decision, refusing to criticize both its result and its flawed legal reasoning.
Of course, liberals don’t routinely intone their belief in campaign finance regulation but then say “the Court has ruled and we have to accept” Citizens United, just as genuine right-to-lifers didn’t persistently express their opposition to abortion but then say “the Court has ruled and we have to accept” Roe v. Wade. They “accept” these decisions as the law in the tautological way that one accepts the mere existence of something, but they still criticize and work to change it, as is their right and obligation as citizens in a democracy. It is therefore hard to see the “Court has ruled” incantation as anything other than code for “I agree with the decision and view criticism of it as illegitimate.”
This is underscored by Kasich’s exuberance about actually having attended a same-sex wedding, something he was even more ebullient about in an earlier interview: “If my [gay] friend invites me to a wedding my big question is ‘well, what time is it?’ I mean it’s a time to celebrate with people.” Hammering home the point the day after the debate he told CBS, “I’m for traditional marriage, but … I’ve got friends that don’t practice that, and … God bless them.” That doesn’t sound like a guy whose belief in traditional marriage extends beyond just merely thinking that it should still be legal.
The biggest concern with Kasich, though, is not his fingers-crossed-behind-his-back failure to just come out and say he supports gay marriage. It’s his complete dismissal of the potential threat to religious and other first amendment freedoms that all four dissenting justices warned of in Obergefell (including Chief Justice John Roberts, who had just upheld Obamacare the day before and so can hardly be written off as a rightwing yahoo). He is the only GOP candidate to go out of his way to downplay this threat, saying “let’s not get carried away.” At a news conference he gave perfunctory lip service to his “disappointment” with the ruling, but when a reporter asked about its impact on “a photographer refusing to work a same-sex wedding,” he curtly replied “let’s not create problems where there frankly is (sic) none.” Afterwards, he quickly turned away from her in the impatient way a politician does when someone has just said something particularly inane.
We Can’t Ignore the Consequences of the Impending Culture War
Alas, Governor Kasich, if only these conflicts didn’t exist. But as Chief Justice Roberts and the other dissenters realized, the growing intolerance of the gay rights movement and its leftist supporters had already created big problems for freedom of speech and religious even before Obergefell.
Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich “got carried away” from his job last year, when it was discovered that he’d made a modest $1,000 contribution to the successful 2008 ballot initiative to repeal court-ordered same-sex marriage in California. Aaron and Melissa Klein, the evangelical former owners of a small bakery in Portland, “got carried away” from their business and faced crippling fines after declining, on religious grounds, to make a custom cake for a lesbian commitment ceremony. Others who may be “getting carried away” soon include tenured Marquette political science professor John McAdams, who is at risk of termination for criticizing a graduate teaching assistant who had browbeaten an undergraduate for opposing gay marriage, and Dr. Paul Church, a Harvard Medical School surgery professor facing revocation of his hospital privileges for untoward comments about the health risks of gay sex.
The problems that Kasich thinks don’t exist have become even more ominous since Obergefell, and are increasingly alarming for the nation’s religious population. A movement to tax, and thus effectively destroy, churches that will not perform gay marriages has sprung up overnight. On top of that, corporate America has already stepped in to threaten the loss of church insurance coverage.
Kasich is not an evil person or a doctrinaire liberal. But like too many members of the Republican establishment, he seems at best oblivious to the increasing threat of a culturally authoritarian “illiberal left” that liberals are even beginning to recognize. As Consumer Reports used to say about products that didn’t score well in its ratings, there are better choices.