A recent poll released indicated 61% of Americans support marriage equality—but where does our next president stand? Sure, President Obama says the freedom to marry is a constitutional right, but he has less than two years left in office.
It’d be nice to think the matter will be settled once and for all after the soon-to-be-announced Supreme Court rules marriage equality, but whatever they decide will be considered, reconsidered and assailed in the coming years. (You only need to look to Roe v. Wade for proof.)
In anticipation of the potentially historic news, we’re taking a look at where the major presidential candidates—both declared and just likely—stand on marriage equality.
The Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 presidential election, Clinton says that she, much like President Obama and many others, has evolved on the issue of marriage equality. “I think that we have all evolved, and it’s been one of the fastest, most sweeping transformations that I’m aware of.”
Whether that evolution was heartfelt, a political strategy or the revelation of her true feelings all along, only she can say. As a presidential hopeful in 2008, she favored civil unions over same-sex marriage, and in 2014, told NPR host Terry Gross that marriage should be “a matter left to the states.”
But shortly after declaring her candidacy—in a video featuring two gay couples—the former senator and Secretary of State averred her unwavering support for same-sex marriage.
“Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right,” her campaign said in a statement this month.
You’d be hard pressed to find a stronger ally for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights that this former governor of Maryland. O’Malley enthusiastically signed marriage equality into law in 2013.
“I get choked up just thinking about that evening,” he says of the passage of Maryland’s marriage equality referendum.
“I looked out over and saw my friends with their children, households headed by LGBT parents and all these people who had come together for a greater good. It was so real to me and so moving. This evening was not abstract it was about real people with real lives.”
You may not have heard of the Democratic former Governor of Rhode Island, but Chafee declared he was running for president back in April.
Back in 2004, he stated that each state “should be free to make its own decision on this issue,” but by 2013 he announced his full support for the freedom to marry, signing Rhode Island’s marriage equality bill into law.
“Rhode Island is upholding its legacy as a place founded on the principles of tolerance and diversity,” he said at the time. “I hope that leaders in capitals across the country—including Washington—will soon realize that marriage equality is an issue where doing the right thing and the smart thing are one and the same.”
Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, announced her presidential campaign by May. She’s a tough one to figure out—while she supports Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, she also supports the right of same-sex couples to receive the legal benefits of marriage.
“What’s really at stake here for gay couples is how government bestows benefits,” she told USA Today. “What’s really at stake here for people of religious conviction is their conviction that marriage is a religious institution because only a man and a woman can create life, which is a gift that comes from God. And I think both of those points of view are valid.”
Though a longshot candidate, Fiorina is the only Republican contender (presumed or actual) to acknowledge the legitimacy of marriage equality and not just declare “let the states decide.”
Marco Rubio says he believes sexual orientation is innate and not a choice, but he still opposes same-sex marriage and thinks homosexuality is a sin, which might make him the worst kind of enemy of equality.
When his home state of Florida began allowing gay couples to wed, Rubio told Politico , “if they wanted to change that law, they should have gone to the legislature or back to the Constitution and try to change it…I don’t agree the courts have the power to do this.”
In a recent interview, Rubio declared “there is no federal constitutional right to same sex-marriage.”
“You would have to really have a ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution to reach the conclusion that people have a right to marry someone of the same sex,” he continued.
“Can a state decide to change their laws?” he asked. “Yes, but only through the political process, not through the court system. And that’s what is happening now. The advocates of same-sex marriage refuse to go to the legislatures because they can’t win that debate. They want to stigmatize, they want to ostracize anyone who disagrees with them as haters. It’s very simple. This is not a policy against anyone.”
Rubio added, “I believe, as do a significant percentage of Americans, that the institution of marriage… should remain in our laws recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
The Republican senator from Texas declared his candidacy in March, and is one of the party’s most outspoken opponents of marriage equality.
Cruz is critical of judicial recourse and recently introduced an amendment that would protect state bans against same-sex marriage. “We have seen judges, and especially the Supreme Court, ignoring the law,” Cruz said.
“If the courts were following the Constitution, we shouldn’t need a new amendment,” he added. “But they are, as you put it quite rightly, ‘making it up’ right now and it’s a real danger to our liberty.”
Jeb Bush announced his candidacy last week to much fanfare (and by fanfare we mean Twitter blowing up with hilarious memes about his exclamatory campaign logo).
Sensing the national sea change on marriage equality, Bush has punted the issue, saying “it out to be a local decision—I mean a state decision.”
But we can take solace in the fact that he has little interest in a constitutional amendment repealing marriage equality.
“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Bush said in January.
Dr. Ben Carson
Ben Carson announced his candidacy back in May, boldly telling his hometown crowd “I’m not a politician.”
Carson made his opinion on the LGBT community known when he opined that “a lot of people who go into prison straight, and when they come out they’re gay.”
He’s also said that while gay people “should have the same rights as everyone else,” we don’t deserve “extra rights” like the freedom to marry.
“They don’t get to redefine marriage,” he said.
He’s got about as much chance of being president as his dad, Ron Paul, but the Kentucky senator did officially throw his hat in the ring.
In 2014, Paul said that he was “in favor of the concept” of a Federal Marriage Amendment—he later stated that same-sex marriage “offends [him] and a lot of other people.”
Rand’s also blamed the very idea of marriage equality on an ethical epidemic in America. “[T]here’s a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage,” he told conservative Christians earlier this year.
The South Carolina senator—and confirmed bachelor—is “testing the waters” for a potential presidential run, but we can only assume it’d be to get a better salary when he inevitably becomes a Fox News pundit.
In his time, Sen. Graham has opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and extending immigration benefits to same-sex partners. He’s on the record as saying he hopes the Supreme Court “will allow each state to define marriage within its borders,” but you can bet he hopes they define it as strictly between a man and a woman.
The former Governor of Arkansas is among the most rabid opponents of marriage equality in the Republican party, and that’s saying something.
He’s even encouraged governors and state legislators to “consider ways to resist a Supreme Court decision that recognized same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.”
Who wouldn’t want to vote for a guy who tells two branches of the government to ignore the third?
If you remember this former governor from Texas from the 2012 election cycle, you remember his comparing homosexuality to alcoholism—explaining that gays and lesbians should simply choose to abstain.
When a district court judge deemed Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Perry voiced his outrage, saying, “Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens.”
He wants states to have the right to define marriage for themselves, saying “the idea that one size fits all coming out of Washington, D.C., is not going to work.”
Like a number of his anti-gay peers, though, Perry said he would “probably” attend gay or lesbian friend’s wedding.
The candidate so anti-gay they turned his name into a dirty word is currently weighing a presidential bid.
When a judge he appointed struck down the same-sex marriage ban in his home state of Pennsylvania, Santorum called the judge’s appointment a “mistake.”
“The court has to stop being the judge and jury for the consciousness of America,” the former senator said. “That’s not what the court’s supposed to be. The court’s supposed to uphold the Constitution, not change the Constitution based on what they think is the current mood of the day.”
Talking to the Pew Forum in 2008, Santorum said allowing same-sex couples to marry “is completely deconstructing marriage and taking away a privilege that is given to two people, a man and a woman who are married, who have a child or adopt a child.”
In the same interview, Santorum blamed marriage equality for everything from the divorce rate to unplanned pregnancies.
Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President on Tuesday, with The Washington Post declaring, “Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy is great entertainment. It’s terrible for politics.”
Trump has been outspoken (ya think?) about his views opposing gay marriage, telling Howard Stern in 2013, “It’s never been an argument that’s been discussed with me very much. People know that it’s not my thing one way or the other.”
Ten months later, in November 2013, Trump attempted to paint an “evolved” view–one, however, that still opposed marriage equality. “I think really what you have is a very changing stance, and you see it changing very rapidly. If you go back 10 years ago it’s very different… I think I’m evolving, and I think I’m a very fair person, but I have been for traditional marriage. I am for traditional marriage, I am for a marriage between a man and a woman.”
Socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy in April declaring that “People should not underestimate me.”
Sanders has a pretty sparkling record when it comes to marriage equality, dating back as early as 1996, when the then-Representative voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.
His home state of Vermont was the first to legalize same-sex unions in 2000 and the first state to pass legislation legalizing gay marriage in 2009.
He remains and unwavering ally to the cause.
The former Governor of New York made his long-shot Presidential bid back in May.
As a moderate Republican, Pataki is the only major Republican presidential hopeful who supports marriage equality.
In a recent political ad Pataki declared, “Defeating Islamic terrorists, shrinking government, growing the economy — these are the issues that matter most,” he said. “Instead we’re debating social issues like abortion and gay rights.” He called that a “distraction.”