John Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, often comes across as the most reasonable one in the room during Republican presidential debates. A supporter of civil unions, his low poll numbers are typically attributed to his relatively moderate posture in facing a conservative GOP primary electorate and his less-than-electrifying personal style.
In its 2012 Election scorecard, Marriage Equality USA has long recorded Huntsman as not supporting repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, a goal that President Barack Obama has endorsed.
According to the Washington Blade, Huntsman has now made his first detailed comment on DOMA. In a December 8 appearance at the National Press Club in DC, the presidential hopeful told the newspaper he believes the 1996 law “serves a useful purpose.”
“It allows states to make their own decisions, to make their own way, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I think, is a safeguard for those states to make that decision,” Huntsman told the Blade.
Most legal observers, however, agree that under prevailing legal precedents, states enjoyed the authority to deny recognition to out-of-state marriages if they wished prior to DOMA. The significant impact of the ’96 law was in affirmatively denying federal recognition to legal same-sex marriages in any of the states. Advocates pressing for DOMA repeal are largely focused on winning federal rights and benefits for couples legally married in the six states plus the District of Columbia that currently provide for that.
Should DOMA be repealed, leading LGBT legal advocates agree that securing marriage equality nationwide would require either a state-by-state effort or a US Supreme Court ruling that denying equal marriage rights violated the US Constitution.
Huntsman’s rationale seems to suggest that he believes that absent DOMA, the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, which governs interstate recognition of “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings,” would be an easy route to universal marriage rights for the gay and lesbian community. Few LGBT advocates believe the matter is that simple.
In other words, Huntsman doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about or chooses to play dumb for what have so far been meager political points.