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Marriage-equality debate already making its mark on 2016 race

All things considered, it looks like Democrats have a far less complicated message to offer the public.
A wedding cake for same-sex couples at a celebration on July 1, 2013.
A wedding cake for same-sex couples at a celebration on July 1, 2013.
In her campaign announcement video on Sunday, Hillary Clinton featured a diverse group of Americans preparing to tackle a variety of new challenges. One was a young man preparing to marry another young man -- a reminder that Democrats now see marriage equality as an issue that works in their favor.
Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to find their footing as the ground shifts beneath them. Dana Bash asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, why a libertarian would want the government to block equal marriage rights. The Republican senator endorsed the idea that what people do in their own homes "is your own business," to which the CNN host added, "But not when it comes to marriage."

Paul responded by differentiating between traditional marriage and a "contract" between gay people. "Well, no. I mean states -- states will end up making the decisions on these things. I think that there's a religious connotation to marriage. I believe in the traditional religious connotation to this," Paul answered. "But I also believe people ought to be treated fairly under the law. I see no reason why if the marriage contract conveys certain things that if -- if you -- if you want to marry another woman that you can do that and have a contract."

Putting aside the separate-but-equal dilemma at the heart of the argument, Paul's response obscures the rest of his position.
Talking to major, mainstream news organizations, the Kentucky Republican makes it sound as if he's eager to be inclusive and treat all Americans "fairly." But when Rand Paul is talking to far-right audiences, the GOP lawmaker's message loses its accommodating veneer.
It was just a few weeks ago that Paul told a group of far-right pastors that he not only opposes marriage equality, he also believes the debate itself shouldn't exist and is the result of a "moral crisis" in the United States. Two weeks prior, the Republican told Fox News that marriages between same-sex couples "offend" him "and a lot of other people."
Of course, it's not just Rand Paul. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who kicked off his presidential bid yesterday, sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep, who asked about the same issue.
If his position seems a little convoluted, there's a good reason for that.

"I don't believe you can discriminate against people. So I don't believe it's right for a florist to say, 'I'm not going to provide you flowers because you're gay.' I think there's a difference between not providing services to a person because of their identity, who they are or who they love, and saying, 'I'm not going to participate in an event, a same-sex wedding, because that violates my religious beliefs.' There's a distinction between those two things. "So, certainly, you can't not -- it's immoral and wrong to say, 'I'm not going to allow someone who's gay or lesbian to use my restaurant, stay in my hotel, or provide photography service to them because they're gay.' The difference here is, we're not talking about discriminating against a person because of who they are, we're talking about someone who's saying -- what I'm talking about, anyway, is someone who's saying, 'I just don't want to participate as a vendor for an event, a specific event that violates the tenets of my faith.'"

Asked, "What if two gay people get married and then they go that night to a hotel. Can the hotelkeeper refuse service to them?" Rubio replied, "That's not part of an event. Again, I mean, that's, there's a difference between saying, 'We're not going to allow you to stay in our hotel, common lodging establishment where people have a right to shelter, food, medical care,' and saying, 'We're not going to, what we're not going to do is provide services to an event, to an actual event, which is the wedding itself.'"
All things considered, it looks like Democrats have a far less complicated message to offer the public.