Facing Criticism, Perry Steps Back on Gay Marriage, States' Rights

House Speaker Joe Straus, left, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at a post-session press conference on May 31, 2011.
House Speaker Joe Straus, left, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at a post-session press conference on May 31, 2011.

Gov. Rick Perry, taking flak from social conservatives and a potential rival in the GOP presidential contest, took a step back from his laissez-faire approach to New York’s gay marriage law on Thursday.

In now-famous remarks in Aspen last week, Perry said he had no problem with New York passing a law legalizing same sex marriages.

“Our friends in New York, six weeks ago, passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex,” Perry said. “Well you know what, that’s New York and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me.” The remarks fit well with Perry’s strong states’ rights view, as he advocates in his book Fed Up! Perry has also said states should decide whether to legalize marijuana or abortion.

But the comments on gay marriage have sparked criticism from social conservatives, including declared GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. Now, in an interview Thursday with the Family Research Council, Perry is dialing back his comments.

“I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ ” Perry said in the interview, broadcast on the group’s blogging website. “Obviously, gay marriage is not fine with me.” While he said he still supported a state’s right to pass its own laws on marriage, Perry described New York’s law as a threat to other states — a threat that needs to be addressed by changing the U.S. Constitution.

Perry has consistently supported a constitutional amendment making it clear marriage can only be between one man and one woman. But in his book and in recent comments to the media, the Texas governor has emphasized a hands-off federalist view that states should determine their own fate — as envisioned by the 10th Amendment — without the heavy hand of a centralized government telling them what to do.

“If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas,” Perry wrote in his book. “If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.” He stuck with that theme Wednesday, saying that "America would be happier if we were deciding those those decisions ourselves in our states rather than one-size-fits-all Washington, D.C."

The tone changed on Thursday, when Perry was speaking to Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council. Perry warned that gay marriage in New York could threaten the definition of marriage in Texas and elsewhere.

“It’s a small group of activist judges and frankly a small handful of states and these liberal special interest groups that are intent on a redefinition of marriage on the nation, for all of us, which I adamantly oppose,” Perry said. “Indeed, to not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas and other states, not to have marriage forced upon them by these activists judges and special interest groups.”

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