Republicans seeking the White House struggled to find their footing Friday after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, splitting between pushing to fight the issue directly or looking for “religious freedom” protections.
Candidates running closer to the center, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham, issued tightly-parsed language urging their colleagues to focus on protecting “religious freedom”. And Ohio Gov. John Kasich urged Republicans to respect the ruling and ditch the matter altogether.
“In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate,” Bush said in his statement.
The Bush campaign later told CNN he would oppose efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.
But conservative firebrands in the 13-member pack, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said that conservatives must stand and fight, by seeking a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal
“I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat,” Huckabee said in a statement.
Jindal tweeted that no “earthly court” could alter the definition of marriage.
The issue has quickly evolved from a wedge issue that used to divide Democrats, even as recently as the 2008 election cycle, to a sticky issue for Republicans looking to bridge the divide between social conservatives and older voters who make up much of their base, and younger conservatives who vary between not caring much on the issue to believing it should be a right.
A May CNN/ORC poll showed that 59% of Republican and Republican-leaning independents under the age of 50 supported a constitutional right for gays and lesbians to marry, while 61% did not.
That divide, and a string of earlier rulings upholding gay marriage, already had conservatives battling in Statehouses across the nation for “religious freedom” measures they said would protect Christian bakers and others from having to cater same-sex weddings.
For Democratic candidates, who have had little trouble embracing the issue this time around, their elation at the high court’s ruling was swift.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who’s own views “evolved” like many others, tweeted that she was “Proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality—& the courage & determination of LGBT Americans who made it possible. -H”
And former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who successfully pushed for legalization in 2012, tweeted photo of the Maryland family at the center of that battle.
“Reminded of Will and his moms on the day we passed marriage equality in MD. There’s no greater human right than love,” O’Malley tweeted.
CNN’s Dana Bash contributed to this report.