Rand Paul on Gay Marriage: If We “Make the Tax Code Neutral,’ We “Don’t Have to Redefine What Marriage Is”

A gay couple marches in Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras gay pride parade on March 2, 2013.

Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

At yesterday’s briefing for reporters at National Review’s D.C. offices, Sen. Rand Paul was admirably blunt about his national ambitions. This isn’t how politicians typically do things. Typically, when asked whether they’re considering a run for president, rising stars have to say they’re flattered but taking things one cliche at a time. (Oh, the hours wasted by reporters asking Tim Pawlenty if he would run for president!) But when National Review’s D.C. editor Robert Costa asked Paul if he was carving out a new future for the GOP, Paul said yes. The Romney campaign should be the last that spends “$300 million on ads in Ohio and none in California.” Republicans needed to compete where they’d been losing.

“All those states that are blue states—they may or may not be winnable, but they may only be winnable if we have a different tone,” he said. “Those who resisted the influence of libertarian Republicans from 2008 to 2012—I think they’re smart to revisit that.”

I asked Paul how Republicans would have to tweak their messages if they competed in California. What about immigration? What about gay marriage? I paraphrased a joke Paul had told last year in Iowa, after Barack Obama had flip-flopped—sorry, evolved—on gay marriage, and Paul told social conservatives that Obama couldn’t “get any gay-er.”

“I’ve been told that joke wasn’t very funny,” deadpanned Paul. “I’m not going to change who I am or what I believe in. I am an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historical definition of marriage. That being said, I think contracts between adults—I’m not for limiting contracts between adults. In fact, if there are ways to make the tax code more neutral where it doesn’t mention the word marriage, then we don’t have to redefine what marriage is. We just don’t have marriage in the tax code. If health benefits are a problem, why don’t we not define them by marriage? Why don’t we say, you have another adult who lives in the house, and a kid who lives in the house can be part of family coverage? Then you don’t have to redefine, and have people like myself, and people who live in the southeastern part of the country, we don’t have to change our definition of what we think marriage is, but we allow contracts to occur so there is more ability to [make] the law neutral.”

Jennifer Rubin (crediting the interview to Costa—hey, it was a team effort!) likes what she hears.

Conservatives understand that there is a realm of conduct left to churches, synagogues, families, localities and individuals. The essence of Burkean conservatism is a healthy regard for and respect for those realms and for the customs, habits and beliefs that flow from those free associations. Whatever the methodology, conservatives at the national level need to extract themselves from a losing battle that should not be within the purview of the federal government.

And Paul says this a month after Marco Rubio says marriage should be “left to the states.”