While the Supreme Court considers whether bans on marriages between same-sex couples are unconstitutional, many opponents have argued: Let the states decide, not federal judges.
The argument has become a politically popular stance — especially among Republican politicians. (On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton previously expressed support for state-by-state efforts before saying this year that she hopes the court will strike all states' bans down.)
But even if the states were allowed to decide, polling shows there is a lot of support for marriage equality — including the same states where several of those 2016 contenders currently live. Polling released this year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which is nonpartisan, shows that many of the GOP contenders who are calling to let states decide this issue also live in states where a majority or plurality of adults support same-sex marriage.
For example, PRRI's surveys show a majority or plurality support for marriage equality in Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and Wisconsin — all home states for GOP contenders who oppose same-sex marriage and who say states should decide the issue. Conversely, some marriage equality opponents, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, have the public squarely in their corner.
Twenty-nine states now have a majority support and seven states have a plurality support for same-sex marriage, PRRI surveys show. This figures suggest that even if the states were left to decide the issue, they could soon push for legalizing marriage equality regardless of the Supreme Court's ruling.
Below is a result of recent polling in those states and positions of the presidential candidates — and those expected to run for president — on letting those states decide.
The pollsters asked: “All in all, do you strongly favor, favor, oppose or strongly oppose [the order of those options was randomized] allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally?" The results from PRRI's survey of adults in all 50 states are here. More information about the polls and methodology is here. The figures below list those who said they supported and opposed same-sex marriage — the remainder were undecided or did not answer.
What people say: 52% support, 40% oppose.What the candidates say:
“I would prefer it to be a state-by-state issue," former governor Jeb Bush, who is expected to soon announce a presidential bid, has said. "That’s how we have dealt with a lot of issues in the United States … Our federal system is a spectacular way to deal with changing mores — and states can take advantage of opportunities much better than federal government.”
“If you want to change the marriage laws of your state, go to your state legislature and get your legislators to change it," Sen. Marco Rubio has said. "I don't believe the court system is the appropriate way to do it and I don't believe Washington and the Supreme Court is the appropriate way to do that.”
Rubio has also said: “States have always regulated marriage. And if a state wants to have a different definition, you should petition the state legislature and have a political debate. I don't think courts should be making that decision. And I don't believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.”
What people say: 59% support, 33% oppose.
What the potential candidate says: “Marriage is a decision that should be defined by our state governments, not at the federal level," said likely presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker. "In Wisconsin and other places across the country, marriage is defined between one man and one woman and states should be the ones that make that decision. When we talk about that we should be standing up for religious freedoms. I’m proud to say in my state it’s actually in the state’s constitution, and the last time I checked it’s in our nation’s constitution as well.”
What people say: 66% support, 27% oppose.
What the potential candidate says: “I do not believe that this is something that should be imposed from the United States Supreme Court down to the states,” said Gov. Chris Christie, who is expected to declare a run for president. Christie also said, “I’m not going to [stop opposing same-sex marriage] because these are opinions I feel strongly about” and “It should be done state by state.”
What people say: 48% support, 43% oppose.
What the candidate says: “I don’t think the federal government should be trying to force the states to adopt gay marriage in all 50 states," said Sen. Ted Cruz. "If the citizens of the state make that decision, they have the Constitutional authority to do that.’”
What people say: 61% support, 31% oppose.
What the candidate says: “It's why I believe the right way to solve these very personal issues is to let people vote on them, don't have judges decide it, don't even have representative government decide it, let people vote on it in the states,” said Carly Fiorina.
What the people say: 56% support, 37% oppose.
What people says: “This should be a state issue rather than a federal issue because judges at the state level must answer to the people in that state," said Ben Carson. "When judges have no responsibility to the will of the people in the state, they do what they want without any consideration or obligation to the people. That is the reason why the United States Constitution assigns civil matters of this nature to the state.”
In other states, people oppose same-sex marriage, such as:
What people say: 54% oppose, 40% support.
What the candidate says: “I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage," said Sen. Rand Paul. "I also believe this power belongs to the states and the people, not the federal government. It is illegitimate for the federal courts to intrude here.”
What people say: 48% oppose, 42% support.
What the potential candidate says: Taking a slightly different tack from many others in the race, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who many speculate will run, has argued that the Supreme Court should decide — to let states make their own decisions. “I think, ultimately, the Supreme Court has got to decide this," said Jindal. "The Supreme Court has created some uncertainty here with their earlier rulings … So my hope is the courts, the Supreme Court won't overturn the state laws. If they do, I think the remedy is for Congress to amend the Constitution and say, ‘Look, let's respect what the states have decided.’”