GOP debate: No love for gay marriage

Republican presidential candidates staked out their positions on gay marriage during a Saturday debate in New Hampshire, where gay couples have been legally permitted to marry since 2010.

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney want gay couples to enjoy certain benefits, but the right to call their relationship a marriage is not one of them.

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Jon Huntsman was the only candidate to endorse civil unions, saying states should be able to talk about how they want to treat same-sex couples.

“I believe that civil unions are fair, and I think it brings a level of dignity to relationships,” Huntsman said.

Gingrich said there should be ways for same-sex partners to enjoy hospital visitation rights and other benefits, but stopped short of supporting any official recognition for their union.

“The sacrament of marriage was based on a man and a woman, has been for 3,000 years,” said the former House Speaker.

Rick Santorum, who has made strengthening traditional marriage a major plank of his campaign platform, said that not only should the U.S. Constitution ban gay marriage for all states, but that gays who are already married would see their marriages annulled.

“We have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have someone married in one state and not married in another,” he said.

In New Hampshire, that would mean thousands of marriages would be disbanded. The emphasis on social issues during Saturday’s debate — the legality of contraception was also a topic — was unusual in that New Hampshire voters are known for placing a higher emphasis on fiscal issues than cultural battles.

But Romney, whose conservative credentials on social issues have been challenged in part due to his tenure as the governor of deep-blue Massachusetts, said there was a legitimate societal interest in promoting marriages between men and women.

“Calling it marriage creates a whole host of problems for families, for the law, for the practice of religion, for education,” he said. “Three thousand years of human history shouldn’t be discarded so quickly.”