The most absurdly-framed question at the GOP debate: Same-sex marriage

John Kasich didn’t get very much attention at last night’s debate, which is one of the reasons why Frank Luntz’s insta-focus group indicated by a fairly wide margin that he won.

However, on one of the few occasions where the moderators turned the audience’s attention to the Ohio governor — who has been candid about the fact that his only hope of winning the nomination is a brokered convention — they asked him what was arguably (since I’m about to argue it) the most absurdly-framed question of the entire debate.

Here’s how Bret Baier approached Kasich concerning what was apparently a grave violation of conservative orthodoxy (emphasis added):

Governor Kasich, the last debate, you were asked a question about religious liberty, in a hypothetical situation where a same-sex couple approaches a cupcake maker to do their wedding. Here’s what you said.

VIDEO CLIP OF KASICH: “If you’re in the business of selling things, if you’re not going to sell to somebody you don’t agree with, today I’m not going to sell to somebody who’s gay, then tomorrow maybe I won’t sell to somebody who’s divorced.”

Governor, some faith leaders got nervous about that answer. Do gay marriage dissenters have rights?

If that question were any more loaded, we would have to take away its car keys. Baier might as well have asked Kasich if he was part of the “atheist Taliban.”

The question repeats the common assertion that granting marriage rights to same-sex couples necessarily means a corresponding (or in this case greater) loss of rights for people who would rather not have seen those rights granted. But by describing these conservatives with one specific religious belief as “dissenters,” and asking Kasich if these “dissenters” had any rights at all when it comes to their freedom to hold this one specific religious belief, Baier presented the issue as part of an ongoing and comprehensive effort on the part of non-Christians to persecute committed Christians for practicing their faith. The dominant faith in this country is being presented as an oppressed minority, with same-sex couples gleefully imposing their will on a select few conscientious objectors.

That’s as ugly as it is insane.

Yes, people with sincerely-held religious beliefs have rights to those beliefs. No, people with sincerely-held religious beliefs do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others who do not hold them in places of public accommodation. There, I just solved the “gay rights vs. religious freedom” non-debate. Let’s move on.

To be clear, Kasich wound up giving an answer that was almost as problematic as the question. His solution to what I’ll call the Christian Baker Privilege Problem was for everyone to pretend it doesn’t exist:

John Kasich, via Michael Vadon / Flickr

John Kasich, via Michael Vadon / Flickr

Here’s what I’d like to see happen. The Supreme Court ruled, I don’t agree with the ruling. I’m of favor of marriage between — you know, traditional marriage, a man and a woman. What I hope was going to happen after the Supreme Court ruling is things would settle down.

If you go to a photographer to take pictures at your wedding, and he says, I’d rather not do it, find another photographer, don’t sue them in court. You know what, the problem is in our country — in our country, we need to learn to respect each other and be a little bit more tolerant for one another.

And at the end of the day, don’t go to court. Can’t we have common sense in America? That’s the way it used to be. And there was a book written called “The Death of Common Sense.” We need to bring it back.

Kasich was trying to be as reasonable as he had sounded in the previous debate, but he wound up casually rejecting the premise of non-discrimination laws. His answer essentially calls for a return to the good ol’ days when a black person would show up to a restaurant with a “Whites Only” sign posted out front, shrug their shoulders and drive around until they found somewhere else to eat.

No lawsuit, no problem.

This is the legal equivalent of a toddler who hasn’t yet developed object permanence. Just because the legal system doesn’t see discrimination doesn’t mean discrimination doesn’t exist.

“Gay marriage dissenters” have rights, but so do same-sex couples. It’s not terribly complicated.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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