SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- It's not every day that a presidential candidate gets asked point-blank what to do about "deviancy." But there was Fred Thompson in Sioux City Friday morning, taking this question from a voter: "My question is what society's position should be on deviancy, including homosexuality?" asked an older, white-haired man.
The concept of "deviancy" is in the headlines here in Iowa because a county judge recently threw out the state's ban on gay marriage, saying it violated the constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. The ruling has since been stayed while it is appealed to the state's Supreme Court.
Thompson answered the deviancy question with a considerable lack of specificity. "Well, society's position and the government position, and what the government ought to do to exercise the power of the federal government, is not necessarily the same thing," he said. Then he said that the government should treat everyone the same way, and that "we should not set aside categories to give special set-aside treatments" to specific groups. This is the language, more or less, of the religious right, which argues that laws that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination amount to unjustified special legal privileges.
Then Thompson moved on. But a few questions later, Steven Carlson, a director of the Iowa Christian Alliance, raised his hand and asked Thompson whether he would support amending the federal Constitution to ban gay marriage. And lo and behold, Thompson said something unexpected.
In the past, Thompson has opposed a federal amendment to ban gay marriage on federalist grounds. Like Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he has said that he does not believe the federal government should be involved in an issue that should be left to the states.
But on Friday, he said he would support a different type of amendment to the Constitution. "I would support a constitutional amendment which says some off-the-wall court decision in one state that recognizes the marriage in one state, like Massachusetts, just to pick a state, cannot go to another state and have it recognized in that state. You are not bound by what another state does." He was not done. "The second part of my amendment would also state that judges could not impose this [gay marriage], on the federal or state level, unless a state legislature signed off on it."
This second part of his amendment is novel, if a bit ponderous. He has said before that he is against the federal government inserting itself into state matters like marriage. But he supports the federal government inserting itself into state courthouses, when they take up the issue of marriage. He did not immediately explain this conflict. But this is only Day 2 of the Thompson campaign. He will have plenty of time to expand on his plan.