Social issues continue to creep into the 2012 presidential election, even as the candidates in the GOP primary prepare to compete in states such as Michigan and Ohio, where the effects are the economic recession are felt the heaviest.
The federal appeals court Tuesday, Feb. 7, ruled California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The court cited that the ban only "lessen[ed] the status and human dignity" of homosexuals. Voters approved the ban, termed "Proposition 8," in 2008 with a vote of 52 percent five months after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
According to Dr. Marc Hetherington, a professor at Vanderbilt University, the potential impact that the overturn of Proposition 8 by California and the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington may have on the coming election remains uncertain.
"It is unclear how significant the issue is at this point. Chris Christie's rumored decision to veto the New Jersey gay marriage bill, along with other court rulings, makes the issues more important. These issues have been in the background for most of the time since the economic crisis has been the focus for years," Hetherington said. "It's going to be harder for gay rights to force itself onto the agenda at a time like this when people's concern are for material things. Concern for social issues are more important when times are prosperous."
Though the federal appeals court overturned the ban, gay couples will not be able to marry in California until the case has moved through the entire appeals process. The California Supreme Court is expected to hear this case soon; however, a timeline has not been set, according to CBS News.
Though the overturn is not yet effective, for some, it symbolizes a win over discrimination and inequality.
"By declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, the Ninth Circuit made a strong statement that laws must not target the LGBT community for discrimination and all of our state's families deserve to enjoy fair and equal treatment under the law," said former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
The question of gay marriage became an issue in 2003 with Massachusetts' decision to legalize it. Today, with the signing of Washington State's legalization of gay marriage on Monday, Feb. 13, gay marriage is now legal in seven states: Washington, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, along with the Washington, D.C. debates over the legalization of gay marriage that have begun in the Maryland House of Delegates. In New Jersey, the state Senate approved a bill to legalize gay marriage, the bill has passed the state assembly vote as of Thursday, Feb. 16, and it now awaits Governor Chris Christie's approval.
Three of the four Republican candidates have submitted statements accusing the judicial branch of overstepping its power in the decision to overturn the ban that Californians had voted on for in 2008.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich believes that the decision denies Californians to define marriage themselves.
In his statement, Gingrich said, "With today's decision on marriage by the Ninth Circuit, and the likely appeal to the Supreme Court, more and more Americans are being exposed to the radical overreach of federal judges and their continued assault on the Judeo-Christian foundations of the United States ... the Constitution of the United States begins with ‘We the People'; it does not begin with ‘We the Judges.' Federal judges need to take heed of that fact. Federal judges are substituting their own political views for the constitutional right of the people to make judgments about the definition of marriage."
Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, continues to stress the importance of protecting the traditional idea of marriage.
"Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage. This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court. That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values," Mitt said. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices."
Just as Gingrich and Romney value the sanctity of keeping marriage an institution between a man and woman, Rick Santorum makes a commitment to ensure this should he become the next president.
In his statement, Santorum said, "We need to have a judicial branch that acts within its Constitutional bounds. We need to have a president that is willing to stand up to the judiciary. We need to have a president who will fight to protect marriage once and for all with a federal marriage amendment. I am committed to being that president."
President Obama and Republican candidate Ron Paul have yet to release official statements.
The next Republican debate will be on Wednesday, Feb. 22 in Mesa, Ariz., and will be broadcast on CNN at 7 p.m. CT.